Celebrities may have helped shape anti-vaccine opinions during Covid-19 pandemic, study finds | CNN



CNN
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Covid-19 vaccines are known to be safe and effective, and they’re available for free, but many Americans in the US refuse to get them – and a recent study suggests that celebrities may share some of the blame for people’s mistrust.

Celebrities have long tried to positively influence public health, studies show, but during the Covid-19 pandemic, they also seemed to have a large influence on spreading misinformation.

Decades ago, in the 1950s, people could see stars like Elvis Presley, Dick Van Dyke and Ella Fitzgerald in TV ads that encouraged polio vaccination. This celebrity influence boosted the country’s general vaccination efforts, and vaccination nearly eliminated the deadly disease.

In 2021, US officials used celebrities in TV ads to encourage more people to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Big names like lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, singer Charlie Puth and even Senate Minority Leader Mitchell McConnell showed up in spots that had billions of ad impressions.

The world isn’t restricted to only three TV networks any more, so celebrities like actress Hilary Duff, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, singer Dolly Parton and even Big Bird also used their enormous presence on Instagram and Twitter to promote a pro Covid-19 vaccine message.

But social media also became a vehicle for celebrities to cast doubt about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and even to spread disinformation about Covid.

Their negative messages seemed to find an audience.

For their study, published in the journal BMJ Health & Care Informatics, researchers examined nearly 13 million tweets between January 2020 and March 2022 about Covid-19 and vaccines. They designed a natural language model to determine the sentiment of each tweet and compared them with tweets that also mentioned people in the public eye.

The stars they picked to analyze included people who had shared skepticism about the vaccines, who had Covid-related tweets that were identified as misinformation or who retweeted misinformation about Covid.

They included rapper Nicki Minaj, football player Aaron Rodgers, tennis player Novak Djokovic, singer Eric Clapton, Sen. Rand Paul, former President Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, TV host Tucker Carlson and commentator Joe Rogan.

The researchers found 45,255 tweets from 34,407 unique authors talking about Covid-19 vaccine-related issues. Those tweets generated a total of 16.32 million likes. The tweets from these influencers, overall, were more negative about the vaccine than positive, the study found. These tweets were specifically more related to antivaccine controversy, rather than news about vaccine development, the study said.

The highest number of negative comments was associated with Rodgers and Minaj. Clapton had “very few” positive tweets, the study said, and that may have had an influence, but he also caught flak for it from the public.

The most-liked tweet that mentioned Clapton and the vaccine said, “Strongly disagree with [EC] … take on Covid and the vaccine and disgusted by his previous white supremacist comments. But if you reference the death of his son to criticize him, you are an ignorant scumbag.”

Trump and Cruz were found to have the most substantial impact within this group, with combined likes totaling more than 122,000.

They too came in for criticism on the topic, with many users wondering whether these politicians were qualified to have opinions about the vaccines. The study said the most-liked tweet mentioning Cruz was, “I called Ted Cruz’s office asking to make an appointment to talk with the Senator about my blood pressure. They told me that the Senator was not qualified to give medical advice and that I should call my doctor. So I asked them to stop advising about vaccines.”

The most-liked tweet associated with Rogan was an antivaxx statement: “I love how the same people who don’t want us to listen to Joe Rogan, Aaron Rodgers about the covid vaccine, want us to listen to Big Bird & Elmo.”

Posts shared by news anchors and politicians seemed to have the most influence in terms of the most tweets and retweets, the study found.

“Our findings suggest that the presence of consistent patterns of emotional content co-occurring with messaging shared by those persons in the public eye that we’ve mentioned, influenced public opinion and largely stimulated online public discourse, for the at least over the course of the first two years of the Covid pandemic,” said study co-author Brianna White, a research coordinator in the Population Health Intelligence lab at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center – Oak Ridge National Laboratory Center for Biomedical Informatics.

“We also argue that obviously as the risk of severe negative health outcomes increase with the failure to comply with health protective behavior recommendations, that our findings suggest that polarized messages from societal elite may downplay those severe negative health outcome risks.”

The study doesn’t get into exactly why celebrity tweets would have such an impact on people’s attitudes about the vaccine. Dr. Ellen Selkie, who has conducted research on influence at the intersection of social media, celebrity and public health outcomes, said celebrities are influential because they attract a lot of attention.

“I think part of the influence that media have on behavior has to do with the amount of exposure. Just in general, the volume of content that is focused on a specific topic or on a specific sort of interpretation of that topic – in this case misinformation – the repeated exposure to any given thing is going to increase the likelihood that it’s going to have an effect,” said Selkie, who was not involved in the new research. She is an adolescent health pediatrician and researcher with UW Health Kids and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Just as people listen to a friend’s thoughts, they’ll listen to a celebrity whom they tend to like or identify with because they trust their opinion.

“With fandoms, in terms of the relationship between musical artists and actors and their fans, there is this sort of mutual love that fans and artists have for each other, which sort of can approximate that sense that they’re looking out for each other,” Selkie said.

She said she would be interested to see research on the influence of celebrities who tweeted positive messages about the Covid-19 vaccine.

The authors of the study hope public health leaders will use the findings right away.

“We argue this threat to population health should create a sense of urgency and warrants public health response to identify, develop and implement innovative mitigation strategies,” the study says.

Exposure to large amounts of this misinformation can have a lasting impact and work against the public’s best interest when it comes to their health.

“As populations grow to trust the influential nature of celebrity activity on social platforms, followers are disarmed and open to persuasion when faced with false information, creating opportunities for dissemination and rapid spread of misinformation and disinformation,” the study says.



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Kirstie Alley, ‘Cheers’ and ‘Veronica’s Closet’ star, dead at 71 | CNN



CNN
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Actress Kirstie Alley, star of the big and small screens known for her Emmy-winning role on “Cheers” and films like “Look Who’s Talking,” has died after a brief battle with cancer, her children True and Lillie Parker announced on her social media.

She was 71.

“We are sad to inform you that our incredible, fierce and loving mother has passed away after a battle with cancer, only recently discovered,” the statement read.

“She was surrounded by her closest family and fought with great strength, leaving us with a certainty of her never-ending joy of living and whatever adventures lie ahead,” the family’s statement continued. “As iconic as she was on screen, she was an even more amazing mother and grandmother.”

“Our mother’s zest and passion for life, her children, grandchildren and her many animals, not to mention her eternal joy of creating, were unparalleled and leave us inspired to live life to the fullest just as she did,” the statement said.

Kirstie Alley’s sexy spin on ‘DWTS’


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A representative for Alley confirmed to CNN via email on Tuesday that she had been diagnosed with colon cancer prior to her death.

A two-time Primetime Emmy Award winner, Alley was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1951.

After a standout role in 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” she played roles in movies like 1984’s “Blind Date” and 1987’s “Summer School” opposite Mark Harmon.

That same year, Alley would follow Shelley Long to play the lead opposite Ted Danson in the latter part of TV classic sitcom “Cheers,” which premiered in 1982. Alley first appeared in 1987, playing strong and independent bar manager Rebecca Howe, staying on the acclaimed show until it ended in 1993.

After winning the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series in 1991 for “Cheers” and another for lead actress in a miniseries or special for 1994’s “David’s Mother,” she again found TV success in the late ’90s with series “Veronica’s Closet,” which scored her another Emmy nod.

Additionally, Alley starred in a number of memorable films, like the “Look Who’s Talking” movies, 1990’s “Madhouse” and 1999’s “Drop Dead Gorgeous” with Ellen Barkin.

In 2005, Alley co-wrote and starred in the Showtime comedy “Fat Actress” before making a foray into reality TV.

She appeared in “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life” in 2010, was a contestant on Season 12 of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” the next year and placed second on Season 22 of the British version of “Celebrity Big Brother” in 2018. In 2022, she competed in Season 7 of Fox’s “The Masked Singer.”

Though she had an impressive body of work, the later part of her career was marked by Alley’s penchant for stirring controversy, especially through social media.

In a 2007 interview, Alley said she was proud of her no holds barred ways.

“I’ve always felt like if someone asks me something, they want the real answer,” Alley told Good Housekeeping. “I think there’s also something about being from Kansas. Usually people think I’m from New York. The only similarity between New Yorkers and Midwesterners is that what you see is what you get.”

kirstie alley larry king live 2005 interview vpx

Kirstie Alley looks back on her ‘Cheers’ years (2005)

John Travolta, who costarred with Alley in 1989’s hit “Look Who’s Talking” as well as two sequels, wrote on Instagram on Monday, “Kirstie was one of the most special relationships I’ve ever had. I love you Kirstie. I know we will see each other again.”

Jamie Lee Curtis – who worked with Alley in 2016 on episodes of TV’s “Scream Queens” – shared a statement on Facebook to pay tribute to the late actress, writing, “She was a great comic foil in @tvscreamqueens and a beautiful mama bear in her very real life. She helped me buy onesies for my family that year for Christmas. We agreed to disagree about some things but had a mutual respect and connection. Sad news.”

Josh Gad tweeted, “My heart breaks for Kirstie and her family. Whether it was her brilliance in ‘Cheers; or her magnetic performance in the ‘Look Who’s Talking’ franchise, her smile was always infectious, her laugh was always contagious and her charisma was always iconic. RIP.”

Alley’s “Cheers” co-star Ted Danson told Deadline he had just watched Alley in an episode of the show while on a plane before learning of her death.

“I was on a plane today and did something I rarely do. I watched an old episode of ‘Cheers,’” Danson told the outlet. “It was the episode where Tom Berenger proposes to Kirstie, who keeps saying no, even though she desperately wants to say yes. Kirstie was truly brilliant in it. Her ability to play a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown was both moving and hysterically funny.”

“She made me laugh 30 years ago when she shot that scene, and she made me laugh today just as hard. As I got off the plane, I heard that Kirstie had died. I am so sad and so grateful for all the times she made me laugh,” Danson added. “I send my love to her children. As they well know, their mother had a heart of gold. I will miss her.”

Another “Cheers” star, Rhea Perlman, told CNN in a statement that she and Alley became friends instantly on the set of “Cheers.”

“Kirstie was a unique and wonderful person and friend. Her joy of being was boundless,” Perlman said. “We became friends almost instantly when she joined the cast of Cheers. She loved kids and my kids loved her too. We had sleepovers at her house, with treasure hunts that she created. She had massive Halloween and Easter parties and invited the entire crew of the show and their families. She wanted everyone to feel included. She loved her children deeply. I’ve never met anyone remotely like her. I feel so thankful to have known her. I’m going to miss her very, very much.”

“Baywatch” actor Parker Stevenson, who was married to Alley from 1983 to 1997 and is the father of her two children, also paid tribute to her on social media. In an Instagram post, confirmed to be Stevenson’s by a representative for the actor, he wrote: “Kirstie, I am so grateful for our years together, and for the two incredibly beautiful children and now grandchildren that we have. You will be missed.”



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