The Disinformation Games

Your safe space for games and challenges related to misinformation and disinformation!

Case study: The Vaccination Problem

Vaccination is a topic of paramount social importance. We live longer and healthier lives, and medical research and innovation have been a driver for this for many years. Vaccination is one of the most important pillars of public health, but they also raise a lot of concern. In many countries some vaccines are mandatory. Where is the truth? What are the real choices we have - as individuals and as a society? How can we make sure that we have an informed opinion on this topic?

The Vaccination Problem

Recommended for: high school students, university students, adults

Available building blocks6

Tags: vaccines, healthcare, conspiracy theories, disinformation, eradicated diseases, herd immunity, religious beliefs

Tips for educators

Building block 6. Vaccines and conspiracy theories

This building block is about vaccines and conspiracy theories, driven by vaccine scepticism, fear or something else. Learning about conspiracy theories in general and getting a better understanding of this phenomenon brings more clarity and greater awareness of the multi-layered entanglement of emotional and rational motivations and argumentations related to vaccines. Mastering this building block is a great foundation for understanding and challenging other conspiracy theories.

Suggested resources

1. What does "conspiracy theory" mean? [Open from webarchive if link broken/inactive]

2. List of conspiracy theories [Open from webarchive if link broken/inactive]

3. Anti-Vax Conspiracies On The Internet Are Getting Weirder. [Open from webarchive if link broken/inactive]

A brilliant resource with repeatable algorithm for studying the phenomenon first-hand.

3.1. The fuller original publication by the Verge: [Open from webarchive if link broken/inactive]

3.2. The original FB video about the HPV vaccine on which the research has been based: [Open from webarchive if link broken/inactive]

4. Study: "Belief in Conspiracy Theories Associated with Vaccine Skepticism" [Open from webarchive if link broken/inactive]

Those with strong beliefs in conspiracies were most likely to hold antivaccination attitudes regardless of where they lived. For example, the more people believed that Princess Diana was murdered, the more negative attitudes they had about vaccinations. In contrast, level of education had a very small impact on antivaccination attitudes.

5. Despite Measles Warnings, Anti-Vaccine Rally Draws Hundreds of Ultra-Orthodox Jews [Open from webarchive if link broken/inactive]

An ultra-Orthodox rabbi falsely described the measles outbreak among Jews as part of an elaborate plan concocted by Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York to deflect attention from “more serious” diseases brought by Central American migrants. A pediatrician questioned whether Jews were being intentionally given “bad lots” of vaccines that ended up giving children a new strain of the virus.


Learning outcomes

The learning outcomes represent the competences which learners are expected to develop as a result of the training intervention:

1. The learner will be able to achieve a practical understanding of the nature of conspiracy theories as a phenomenon
2. The learner will be able to construct aggregate profiles of large numbers of commentators based on online behaviour
3. The learner will be able to follow/repeat a simple information research process
4. The learner will be able to understand and outline the different types of rational and emotional arguments people use in online discussions
5. The learner will be able to navigate online, find and extract relevant information


Suggested teaching methods

> Study of available materials online
> Online search and extracting meaningful information from websites
> Teamwork
> Analysis and deconstruction of online themed discussion
> Create memes

Suggested learning activities

> Have all learners go through the first two resources in the list in order to form a basic understanding of what conspiracy theory means.

> Go through the NYTimes article to see conspiracy theory in practice.

> Watch together the FB video on the HPV vaccine.

> Scroll through the comments (1200+ as of July 2019).

> Split the group in three: G1 to take note of conspiracy-theory-related comments, G2 on other negative comments, G3 on the instances of interaction between people arguing pro and con.

> Launch a quick competition for "most original" meme. Ask each group to produce a meme based on their perception of the topic. Give very short instructions on what a meme is. Direct learners to an online resource for producing memes. Give some time for idea-generation, image search and production. Do keep the time - with this activity it is easy to get carried away.

De Facto pillars

Frames and Framing, Equivalence and Emphasis Frames: Discuss how frames and emphasis frames makes memes work.

Motivated Cognition: Discuss the factors which make conspiracy theories keep a steady number of supporters even when there is no evidence for their claims or when there is overwhelming evidence against it. Why do people cling to these theories? How do they pass this interest to others and "recruit" new followers of a particular theory? You may use source #2 as a starting point and ask the learners to pick 1-2 conspiracy theories and then center the discussion in that particular context. Encourage the learners to seek more information (e.g. forums where conspiracy theories' supporters meet and chat, social media groups, tweets/posts, etc.) and to try and construct a profile of the people who would be more likley to accept such a theory as correct, even against the evidence.

Additional online tools


You have selected a topic from the Disinformation Games area. Please be advised that this area hosts, or links to, resources that contain misinformation or disinformation. The presence of such materials is to assist in developing and sustaining skills for navigating and detecting disinformation. To achieve this goal – and with clear intent – none of the materials are explicitly marked as true or not true.