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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Vaccines and Social Media Networks

At Wired, Renee Diresta and Gilad Lotan analzye social media networks:
A new group emerges in the space between “Antivax Twitter” and “Conservative Twitter”—we call it “vaccine choice” Twitter. The tweeters are the same individuals who have long been active in the autism-vaccine #cdcwhistleblower network. And originally, much of the content shared in #sb277 focused on the same anti-vax pseudoscience underlying #cdcwhistleblower. However, as bad science and conspiracies repeatedly lost in legislative votes, anti-vaxxers updated their marketing: They are now “pro-SAFE vaccine” parental rights advocates. Instructions to the group now focus on hammering home traditionally conservative “parental choice” and “health freedom” messaging rather than tweeting about autism and toxins.
Twitter activity around #sb277 is part of a multipronged strategy that takes place alongside phone, email, and fax campaigns, coordinated by well-funded groups including the Canary Party and the NVIC. The net effect is that legislators and staffers feel besieged on all fronts. In one unfortunate video, a movement leader encouraged supporters to use Twitter to harass and stalk a lobbyist, who has since filed police reports. In a very recent creation, that same leader excoriates her “Twitter army” for diluting the power of the #cdcwhistleblower movement by creating their own hashtags rather than using the ones they’ve been assigned. She also requests that the entire network tweet at Assembly representatives to inform them that their political careers will be over if they vote in favor of SB277. Much like Food Babe leverages her #foodbabearmy to flood corporations with demands for change, the goal of anti-vax twitter is to dominate the conversation and make it look as if all parents are vehemently opposed to the legislation.

The other finding from observing anti-vax network graphs is that despite the vast majority vaccinating—national vaccination rates remain above 90 percent—there is no offsetting pro-vaccine Twitter machine; most parents simply vaccinate and move on with their lives. People don’t organize in groups around everyday life-saving measures; there is no pro-seatbelt activist community on Twitter. The recent emergence, lack of central coordination, and weak connections seen among pro-vaccine Twitter users, who often use the hashtag #vaccineswork, means that the pro-vax message (in green) is not amplified to the same degree.