Vaccination trials on hold: malicious and low credibility content on Twitter during the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine development

Sameera Horawalavithana, Ravindu De Silva, Nipuna Weerasekara, N G Kin Wai, Mohamed Nabeel, Buddhini Abayaratna, Charitha Elvitigala, Primal Wijesekera, Adriana Iamnitchi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The development of COVID-19 vaccines during the global pandemic that started in 2020 was marked by uncertainty and misinformation reflected also on social media. This paper provides a quantitative evaluation of the Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) shared on Twitter around the clinical trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine and their temporary interruption in September 2020. We analyzed URLs cited in Twitter messages before and after the temporary interruption of the vaccine development on September 9, 2020 to investigate the presence of low credibility and malicious information. We show that the halt of the AstraZeneca clinical trials prompted tweets that cast doubt, fear and vaccine opposition. We discovered a strong presence of URLs from low credibility or malicious websites, as classified by independent fact-checking organizations or identified by web hosting infrastructure features. Moreover, we identified what appears to be coordinated operations to artificially promote some of these URLs hosted on malicious websites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalComputational and Mathematical Organization Theory
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Nov 2022

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