A Gold Coast medical educator who was trolled online after sharing a photo of her daughter being vaccinated has called on big tech companies to do more to stop those with "radicalised" views from sharing misinformation.
- A Gold Coast mother and academic is trolled for posting a Tweet about her daughter's vaccination
- Assistant professor and registered nurse Jessica Stokes-Parish says scientists regularly face online abuse
- Dr Stokes-Parish wants tech companies to do more about users with radicalised views
Registered nurse and Bond University assistant professor Jessica Stokes-Parish earlier this week posted to Twitter a picture of her six-year-old daughter after she had received her COVID-19 vaccination, saying: "Long queues but we did it! #VaccinesWork".
But later that day, the tweet went viral with online harassment and bullying in which people attacked her for allowing her daughter to get the jab.
"It was a very innocuous little tweet," Dr Stokes-Parish said.
"My daughter was really excited to show off her band-aid and photo.
"My colleagues saw it and were like, 'So great'."
The Tweet that saw Jessica Stokes-Parish trolled online. (Supplied)
But that night, some Twitter users began labelling Dr Stokes-Parish a "terrible mother" and left other vile comments.
"They were saying that I should be ashamed to be a mother, that this poor child should be taken into child custody away from me because I was inept and disgusting," she said.
"That I was treating her like cattle to be put into a trial, that the child was unfortunate to have me as their mother."
She said some commenters were bots but others were real people.
"I spent all of Tuesday reporting, blocking and deleting the hundreds and hundreds of comments," she said.
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Online abuse 'no surprise'
Dr Stokes-Parish said she had previously received a backlash online for posting about her research or science, and that many of her colleagues had also reported being trolled for sharing similar content.
"I guess I wasn't surprised," she said.
"I've had it happen before, but the sheer volume of attacks in this one was quite overwhelming.
"I've reviewed the data and I've worked out what the best evidence is for my family. I'm under no illusions that my views will not be shared by everyone and that's totally OK.
"I certainly didn't go out there to change everyone's mind, but I also don't expect to be vilified and harassed for simply sharing my views."
She said she was not intending to take further action, and hoped her experience would not dissuade other parents from taking their children to be vaccinated or sharing about it online.
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"Part of my concern with sharing that I'd been attacked was because I'm really mindful that it is a really polarising time and that parents already have a huge amount of responsibility on them about the choices that they make — so I didn't want to kind of dissuade people from making the best decision that they could," she said.
The Gold Coast mum said she reported all the tweets to Twitter, which she said responded by telling her they did not "violate any terms and conditions".
"For me, that just highlights that, once again, the technology companies aren't really doing enough to prevent bullying and to prevent the sharing of false information," she said.
She said the experience was further proof that harassment of science communicators had become "the norm".
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'Extremist' views prevalent over vaccines
Dr Stokes-Parish said there had been an increase in the amount of content published online containing extremist and "radicalised" views during the pandemic, especially around COVID vaccines.
"It's the things that people perceive to have a personal impact on them — that's when they get quite aggressive and seem to go on the attack," she said.
She said past online harassment had made her "think twice" about sharing scientific information publicly.
"I've kind of developed a thick skin but it's very time-consuming spending hours and hours blocking and deleting," she said.
"It does make you hesitant to want to talk about science, especially with topics like vaccination that have so much importance for public health.
"If there's going to be that kind of flak, then it really does make you think twice."