Vaping Advocates are Being Called Bots!
If advocates for ecigs and tobacco harm reduction speak up they are frequently called bots (computer generated online content attempting to appear to be human) or labelled as AstroTurf (individuals or organisations pretending to be members of the public but funded by the tobacco industry).
Earlier in 2022, a study stated: “Continuous efforts are needed to surveil the industry’s attempts to create a climate of false consensus”.
The report damned known vaping advocates, independent of any industry influence, as being paid-for AstroTurf.
One of them, harm reduction expert Clive Bates responded: “There probably needs to be a special industrial shredder for tobacco control studies on social media. Any sensible person would be delighted at emerging low risk alternatives to smoking. And this was an industry misinformation operation? Really? Evidence for that? Who are all these imaginary bots?”
This isn’t a new direction of attack. Some tobacco controllers either found debating the facts too difficult or believed they were otherwise justified in beginning to punch below the belt many years ago.
In 2017, a paper claimed to find Twitter posts from social bots, warning that these bots are being used “to perpetuate the idea that e-cigarettes are helpful in cessation and to promote new products” as if this is a bad thing.
Last year, Australian tobacco controllers produced a paper that failed to identify any links between advocate account on Twitter and the tobacco industry – but decided to say: “It is unclear if comments are endorsed, sanctioned, or even supported by the industry”, all the same.
Some believe it is symptomatic of an approach that is like throwing a lot of mud at a wall in the hope that some of it will eventually stick.
Released around the same time, an analysis of Twitter posts, during 2019, opposing flavoured e-cigarette bans in the United States. In it, the authors write how politicians in the USA “have investigated the role that social bots play in driving online discussions about e-cigarettes.”
Fortunately in this instance, the paper found that Twitter users advocating for flavoured e-liquids and powering a “backlash against e-cigarette regulation is not coming from automated accounts but instead real-life people who can vote”.
Unsurprisingly, vaping advocates are dismayed at the state of affairs.
In the early days of electronic cigarette adoption, from 2009-2013, normal members of the public who were smokers found success by switching to e-cigarettes. Many of them formed or joined independent consumer groups to do the job that no one else seemed to be doing – spreading the truth about vaping.
Early members of the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) were smeared by allegations that they spoke on behalf of tobacco companies. Powerful academics even joined to write a letter to the British Medical Journal to repeat the evidence-free slurs.
As a charity with open accounts, it is clear to anyone who cares to look that the NNA has no industry links beyond attending events to speak up for reduced harm products where other interested parties may be present.
What is clear is that this line of attack isn’t going to stop anytime soon given that it has been taking place for a decade. The positive to take from this is that despite the non-stop ad hominem attacks, normal people who vape are still using their voice to share independent research and facts about vaping to help current smokers switch to e-cigs.