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It's Not All About Autism: the Emerging Landscape of Anti-Vaccination Sentiment on Facebook

Hoffman, Beth (2019) It's Not All About Autism: the Emerging Landscape of Anti-Vaccination Sentiment on Facebook. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Introduction: The anti-vaccination movement has been present since the early 1700s. Previous research suggests that social media may be fueling the spread of anti-vaccination messaging. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis is to (1) highlight major events in the history of the anti-vaccine movement, (2) present a stand-alone journal article from a systematic analysis of individuals known to express anti-vaccination sentiment on Facebook, and (3) integrate the conclusions presented in the article into a broader historical framework.
Methods: A literature review was conducted for the historical overview. For the journal article, our data set consisted of 197 individuals with Facebook accounts who posted anti-vaccination comments on a prominent local pediatric clinic’s Facebook page. For each individual, we systematically analyzed publicly available content using quantitative coding, descriptive analysis, social network analysis, and an in-depth qualitative assessment.
Results: Throughout history, the anti-vaccination movement has consistently sued fiery rhetoric and vivid imagery to spread its messages, which often center on concerns of liberty and safety. Analysis of Facebook profiles found that more individuals posted content related to mistrust in the medical community, liberty, and belief in homeopathic remedies compared to those who posted that vaccines cause autism. Among 136 individuals who divulged their location, 36 states and 8 countries outside the U.S. were represented. In a 2-mode network of individuals and topics, modularity analysis revealed 4 distinct sub-groups: (1) liberty, (2) naturalness, (3) illness, and (4) conspiracy. Qualitative analysis found that individuals often share posts from Facebook groups that market themselves as pro-science.
Conclusion: Individuals on Facebook frequently posted anti-vaccine content that echoed historical concerns. Our findings suggest social media outlets facilitate anti-vaccination connection and organization, thus assisting in the amplification and diffusion of centuries’ old arguments and techniques. These findings are significant for public health in that they will inform the development of updated messaging around vaccination, and suggest the importance of understanding the history of the anti-vaccination movement when developing these messages. These findings also suggest a valuable opportunity for public health practitioners to leverage social networks to deliver more effective, tailored interventions to different constituencies.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Hoffman, Bethbethlouise@gmail.comblh72
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairFelter, Elizabethemfelter@pitt.eduemfelter
Committee MemberChu, Kar-Haichuk@pitt.educhuk
Committee MemberBurke, Jessicajgburke@pitt.edujgburke
Committee MemberPrimack, Brian Abprimack@pitt.eduBPRIMACK
Date: 20 June 2019
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 19 November 2018
Approval Date: 20 June 2019
Submission Date: 1 March 2019
Access Restriction: 1 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 1 year.
Number of Pages: 81
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Public Health > Behavioral and Community Health Sciences
Degree: MPH - Master of Public Health
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Facebook, social media, anti-vaccination, health communication, vaccine history
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2019 21:01
Last Modified: 01 May 2020 05:15


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