In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms have helped spread this dangerous myth.
Facebook on Thursday morning continued to recommend content in the search bar that linked vaccinations with autism, a CNN Business review showed. When searching for "vaccines" using the search tool, results included "vaccines and autism" and "vaccinesrevealed." When clicked, the suggestions in the drop-down menu returned results for Facebook pages that spread vaccine misinformation.
On Instagram, the problem was also still widespread, as first pointed out by The Atlantic's Taylor Lorenz in a Thursday story about misinformation on the platform. Pages recommended when CNN Business searched for vaccines included accounts such as "VACCINES UNCOVERED," "Vaccine Cautious Mom," "Vaccines Exposed," and others. When searching for hashtags, the top results was "#vaccineskill," which had more than 17,000 posts. Others included "#vaccineinjury," "#antivaccine," and "#vaccinescauseautism."
A spokesperson speaking on behalf of both Instagram and Facebook told CNN Business on Thursday afternoon that the process of curbing the dissemination of vaccine misinformation has always been scheduled to take place over several weeks. The spokesperson called the effort a "long-term commitment."
At Vaccine, Beth Hoffman and colleagues have an article titled "It’s Not All About Autism: The Emerging Landscape of Anti-vaccination Sentiment on Facebook," The abstract:
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 were 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 j 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.