Can you trust the numbers behind Facebook’s COVID-19 vaccination survey?

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Facebook is getting into the business of helping to figure out where people are most likely to take the COVID-19 vaccine — with the tech giant’s surveys showing counties in the Triangle rank among the highest in the state.

The survey found about two-thirds of North Carolinians would get the vaccine with that number rising to 92 percent in Orange County, 86 percent in Durham County and 85 percent in Wake County.

But can you trust those survey results?

Laura McGorman, one of the managers of Facebook’s “Data for Good” program, says the comparatively large sample size of respondents gives them statistical significance.

Facebook’s role is as “a recruitment tool” because users clicking the survey link are taken to a website run by Carnegie Mellon University, which compiles the data and presents it as a dashboard and interactive map.

“We can use the power and the reach of the Facebook platform to get more people to participate,” McGorman said.

About 7,500 Facebook users across the state took the survey from early January through Feb. 1. By comparison, a similar survey conducted by Elon University on the willingness to take the vaccine involved only about 1,400 adults in the state.

Overall, more than 220,000 people across the country have completed the vaccination survey, part of the total of 16.5 million people — about 55,000 per day — who have responded to a collection of surveys since April.

“The orders of magnitude, in terms of the volume of people that we get to participate in this type of research, is pretty staggering,” McGorman said.

The results are comparable to the findings of other surveys, both across the state and nationally. 

A Pew Research Institute study in December found 60 percent of Americans responding that they would definitely or probably get a vaccine if one were available immediately.

The Elon poll of North Carolinians also found nearly 60 percent of people would be willing or have taken the vaccine.

“It goes to show that we still have a lot of work to do to increase people’s willingness to get vaccinated,” McGorman said.

The results can also be broken down demographically, with significant differences appearing between races, genders and ethnicities. McGorman said that information helps in tailoring targeted messages to combat vaccine hesitancy among specific groups.

“We can’t just reach everybody with the same message,” she said. “We need to be working with community members and nonprofits to speak to their neighborhood, and speak to their community to share information that’s relevant and local, and speaks to the unique message that some populations have over others.”

Facebook is also fighting misinformation from users on its site, McGorman said, adding that the tech giant teamed with health experts to create lists of “widely debunked hoaxes.” Teams of employees and an automated algorithm will spot those hoaxes and remove them.

“So there’s both a proactive strategy and then a strategy that involves human beings working with us in real time to stop that content where it exists and take it down,” McGorman said.

CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March, compiling data from federal, state and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.

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