Study Shows What’s Really Going on in Online Anti-Vax Groups

Social media chat on anti-vaccination Facebook pages is led by a tone of moral outrage, plus a strong belief in the oppressive nature of governments and the media. What’s more, the vast majority of participants are women.

That’s according to a new study of six public anti-vaccination Facebook pages, with hundreds of thousands of Likes between them, using a variety of data analysis methods.

While these pages cover a wide area in terms of geographical regions, the people doing most of the commenting actually represent a much smaller subset, the research reveals, suggesting social media plays a key role in fanning the flames of anti-vaxxer feeling – and in getting people to ignore the weight of evidence.

“Understanding pockets of resistance to vaccination as a public health exercise provides important insights into how these attitudes may be effectively countered,” write the researchers in their paper.

“Effective disease prevention is contingent on high levels of vaccination compliance and coverage within networked populations.”

Previous research has shown that anti-vaccination websites make much better use of interactive tools like comments, forums, and social media, than pro-vaccination sites, which tend to act more like static libraries of information.

In other words, when you’re searching for health information on the web, the people shouting loudest can often drown out the people talking sense.

To dig deeper into the online anti-vaxxer communities, Naomi Smith from Federation University Australia and Tim Graham from Australian National University looked at the structure of the six hand-picked Facebook pages, the gender balance, and the main recurring discussion topics.