The U.S. is still facing major hurdles when it comes to vaccine hesitancy — particularly when it comes to the spread of online misinformation.
NewsGuard Technologies, an organization that determines the credibility of news and information websites, recently shared its findings regarding pandemic misinformation.
It found that more than 500 websites are publishing misinformation about COVID-19, including misleading information about vaccines and treatments.
"We're really looking at things like the sites repeatedly publishing false claims," said NewsGuard general manager Matt Skibinski. "Does it separate news and opinion?...Does it reveal who is in charge of producing content and the conflicts of interest?"
NewsGuard also found 50 hoax websites specifically dedicated to misleading people on vaccines.
Another complicated layer facing news consumers in determining facts from distorted COVID-19 information is VAERS — the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
VAERS is a Centers for Disease Control database that was created to detect any issues with vaccines that may not have been detected in trials. The problem? All the preliminary information is public, so anyone can interpret — or misinterpret — raw information that is submitted about vaccine reactions.
NewsGuard found that 80% of engagement with news content related to the CDC website was from flagged misinformation sites.
The group says its goal isn't to try and take down websites, but it does share its information with advertisers who do not want to be associated with false information.
"The solution to misinformation is empowering news," Skibinski said. "Consumers are average Internet users with information that they can use to make their own decisions. We know that if you censor content, it always backfires or almost always backfires."
NewsGuard had a browser extension tool that rates online content based on its reliability. Click here to learn more.