The Rockefeller Foundation, the National Science Foundation (an “independent” agency of the U.S. government) and other nonprofits are pouring millions of dollars into a research initiative “to increase uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and other recommended public health measures by countering mis- and disinformation.”
In conjunction with the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the Rockefeller Foundation last month announced $7.2 million in funding for the Mercury Project, initially launched in November 2021, under the slogan, “Together, we can build a healthier information environment.”
The funds will support 12 teams of researchers in 17 countries who will conduct studies on “ambitious, applied social and behavioral science to combat the growing global threat posed by low COVID-19 vaccination rates and public health mis- and disinformation,” the Rockefeller Foundation said.
The Rockefeller Foundation and the SSRC claim the aim of the Mercury Project, whose name is derived from the ancient Roman god of messages and communication, is to bolster public health and safety.
However, some critics described the project as one based on “propaganda” aimed at “nudging” the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.
Creating ‘behavioral change’ by targeting schoolchildren and specific socio-economic groups
Behavioral change lies at the heart of the Mercury Project, which will issue three-year research grants to estimate “the causal impacts of mis- and disinformation on online and offline outcomes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” including “differential impacts across socio-demographic groups.”
The research will include “interventions that target the producers or the consumers of mis- and disinformation, or that increase confidence in reliable information.”
Some of the “interventions” proffered by the Rockefeller Foundation include “literacy training for secondary school students” to “help students identify COVID-19 vaccine misinformation,” “equipping trusted messengers with communication strategies to increase COVID-19 vaccination demand” and “using social networks to share tailored, community-developed messaging to increase COVID-19 vaccination demand.”