Amazon spreads vaccine misinformation, iSchool researchers find

February 02, 2021

Amazon's search algorithm gives preferential treatment to books that promote false claims about vaccines, according to research by UW Information School Ph.D. student Prerna Juneja and Assistant Professor Tanu Mitra.

Meanwhile, books that debunk health misinformation appear lower in Amazon's search results, where they are less likely to be seen, the researchers wrote in a paper that was recently accepted to CHI, the top annual conference on human-computer interaction.

In their paper, Juneja and Mitra noted that Amazon has faced criticism for not regulating health-related products on its platform. They conducted audits to determine how much health misinformation is present in Amazon's recommendations and how the personalization of its search results affects the amount of misinformation users receive.

The researchers tested a list of 48 search terms on vaccine-related topics, such as "immunization" and "MMR vaccine and autism" over a 22-day period and found that products promoting misinformation consistently outperformed those that debunk false claims. Misinformative products performed especially well when results were sorted by certain filters -- "average customer reviews" and "price low to high."

Juneja and Mitra used bots to build user histories and test whether Amazon pushes shoppers toward misinformation after they've shown an interest. They found that after users click on misinformative products or place them in their carts, they are more likely to see similar items on their Amazon home pages, creating a misinformation feedback loop.

To combat misinformation on its platform, the researchers recommended several actions Amazon could take. Those include displaying informative links alongside the product listings, introducing bias indicators, and, in the long term, modifying its algorithms and policies to stop promoting misinformative books.
-end-


University of Washington

Related Vaccine Articles from Brightsurf:

Who should get the COVID-19 vaccine first?
Nineteen global health experts from around the world have proposed a new, three-phase plan for vaccine distribution -- called the Fair Priority Model -- which aims to reduce premature deaths and other irreversible health consequences from COVID-19.

Breakthrough with cancer vaccine
Scientists have developed a new cancer vaccine with the potential to activate the body's immune system to fight a range of cancers, including leukaemia, breast cancer, lung cancer and pancreatic cancers.

How to improve the pneumococcus vaccine
Pneumococcus kills 1 million children annually according to the World Health Organization.

US inroads to better Ebola vaccine
As the world focuses on finding a COVID-19 vaccine, research continues on other potentially catastrophic pandemic diseases, including Ebola and Marburg viruses.

Successful MERS vaccine in mice may hold promise for COVID-19 vaccine
In a new study, published April 7 in mBio, researchers from the University of Iowa and the University of Georgia demonstrate that a new vaccine fully protects mice against a lethal dose of MERS, a close cousin of COVID-19.

Coronavirus Vaccine: Where are we and what's next? (video)
You might have heard that COVID-19 vaccine trials are underway in Seattle.

Why isn't there a vaccine for staph?
A study from Washington University School of Medicine in St.

Exposing vaccine hesitant to real-life pain of diseases makes them more pro-vaccine
New research from Brigham Young University professors finds there is a better way to help increase support for vaccinations: Expose people to the pain and suffering caused by vaccine-preventable diseases instead of trying to combat people with vaccine facts.

Lifetime flu vaccine?
Another year, another flu vaccine because so far scientists haven't managed to make a vaccine that protects against all strains of flu.

On the horizon: An acne vaccine
A new study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology reports important steps that have been taken towards the development of an acne vaccine.

Read More: Vaccine News and Vaccine Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.