A Conversation Divided: A COVID-19 Vaccine is Still in the Making, but Remarkable Polarization Between Traditional Media and Anti-Science Sources has Already Emerged

6 min readSep 8, 2020

Conversations about a COVID-19 vaccine have been ongoing since the disease came into our lives. As researchers, pharma companies and governments push ahead with vaccine development, chatter online is gaining steam. Mapping the conversation around vaccines on Facebook public groups over the month of August using Crowdtangle hints at a very polarized universe of conversation. On one side lies traditional media (both right-wing and left-wing) that is being shared and discussed within a cluster of pro-science and liberal communities. On the other lies content originating on YouTube, antivax and pro-life websites, as well as on Russian propaganda media outlet RT, shared by a growing anti-science movement comprising conspiracy theory believers (such as the qanon communities), natural healing die-hards, far right fans and, of course, anti-vaxxers.

The most prominent group on the anti-science side is “Collective Action Against Bill Gates”, created in April 2020, which now boasts close to 200,000 members. Throughout the month of August, there were more than 400 links that were shared within the group. In that time frame, the most popular domain was YouTube, with 67 links posted during that month. Links to petitions in the UK parliament came second and, interestingly, Kremlin’s outlet RT.com was the third most linked domain on that group, with 25 links. Of these links, three were shared over 1000 times: (1) an article about the #ExposeBillGates hashtag, (2) a piece about how Big Pharma firms will NOT be held accountable for COVID-19 vaccine side effects and (3) how children in care can be vaccinated against their parents’ wishes. None of the YouTube videos posted on the group came close to 1000 shares. In addition, the RT articles were posted within this cluster of groups over 300 times, more than any other publisher.

A closer look at the anti-science clusters highlights how alternative sources of information, not just RT and conspiracy theories aired on Youtube, dominate. They are made up of a myriad of domains known for disseminating conspiracies and antivax content that resonate with the far right, with the only website in this…