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It’s not all about autism: The emerging landscape of anti-vaccination sentiment on Facebook

Hoffman, Beth L. and Felter, Elizabeth Madison and Chu, Kar-Hai and Shensa, Ariel and Herman, Chad and Wolynn, Todd and Williams, Daria and Primack, BA (2019) It’s not all about autism: The emerging landscape of anti-vaccination sentiment on Facebook. Vaccine, 37 (16). pp. 2216-2223.

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Background: Due in part to declining vaccination rates, in 2018 over 20 states reported at least one case of measles, and over 40,000 cases have been confirmed in Europe. Anti-vaccine posts on social media may be facilitating anti-vaccination behaviour. This study aimed to systematically characterize (1) individuals known to publicly post anti-vaccination content on Facebook, (2) the information they convey, and (3) the spread of this content.

Methods: Our data set consisted of 197 individuals who posted anti-vaccination comments in response to a message promoting vaccination. We systematically analysed publicly-available content using quantitative coding, descriptive analysis, social network analysis, and an in-depth qualitative assessment. The final codebook consisted of 26 codes; Cohen’s κ ranged 0.71-1.0 after double-coding.

Results: The majority (89%) of individuals identified as female. Among 136 individuals who divulged their location, 36 states and 8 other countries were represented. In a 2-mode network of individuals and topics, modularity analysis revealed 4 distinct sub-groups labelled as “trust,” “alternatives,” “safety,” and “conspiracy.” For example, a comment representative of “conspiracy” is that poliovirus does not exist and that pesticides caused clinical symptoms of polio. An example from the “alternatives” sub-group is that eating yogurt cures human papillomavirus. Deeper qualitative analysis of all 197 individuals’ profiles found that these individuals also tended to post material against other health-related practices such as water fluoridation and circumcision.

Conclusions: Social media outlets may facilitate anti-vaccination connections and organization by facilitating the diffusion of centuries old arguments and techniques. Arguments against vaccination are diverse but remain consistent within sub-groups of individuals. It would be valuable for health professionals to leverage social networks to deliver more effective, targeted messages to different constituencies.


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Item Type: Article
Status: Published
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Hoffman, Beth L.blh72@pitt.eduBLH72
Felter, Elizabeth
Williams, Dariadcw36@pitt.edudcw36
Primack, BAbprimack@pitt.eduBPRIMACK
Centers: Other Centers, Institutes, Offices, or Units > Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health
Date: 10 April 2019
Date Type: Publication
Journal or Publication Title: Vaccine
Volume: 37
Number: 16
Page Range: pp. 2216-2223
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2019.03.003
Schools and Programs: School of Medicine > Medicine
Refereed: Yes
Article Type: Research Article
Date Deposited: 12 Aug 2019 12:56
Last Modified: 10 Apr 2020 05:15


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