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Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Growing Strength of the Antivaxxers

 In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Neil F. Johnson and colleagues have an article at Nature titled "The online competition between pro- and anti-vaccination views."
Distrust in scientific expertise1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14 is dangerous. Opposition to vaccination with a future vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the causal agent of COVID-19, for example, could amplify outbreaks2,3,4, as happened for measles in 20195,6. Homemade remedies7,8 and falsehoods are being shared widely on the Internet, as well as dismissals of expert advice9,10,11. There is a lack of understanding about how this distrust evolves at the system level13,14. Here we provide a map of the contention surrounding vaccines that has emerged from the global pool of around three billion Facebook users. Its core reveals a multi-sided landscape of unprecedented intricacy that involves nearly 100 million individuals partitioned into highly dynamic, interconnected clusters across cities, countries, continents and languages. Although smaller in overall size, anti-vaccination clusters manage to become highly entangled with undecided clusters in the main online network, whereas pro-vaccination clusters are more peripheral. Our theoretical framework reproduces the recent explosive growth in anti-vaccination views, and predicts that these views will dominate in a decade. Insights provided by this framework can inform new policies and approaches to interrupt this shift to negative views. Our results challenge the conventional thinking about undecided individuals in issues of contention surrounding health, shed light on other issues of contention such as climate change11, and highlight the key role of network cluster dynamics in multi-species ecologies15.
Kevin Roose at NYT:
I’ve been following the anti-vaccine community on and off for years, watching its members operate in private Facebook groups and Instagram accounts, and have found that they are much more organized and strategic than many of their critics believe. They are savvy media manipulators, effective communicators and experienced at exploiting the weaknesses of social media platforms. (Just one example: Shortly after Facebook and YouTube began taking down copies of “Plandemic” for violating their rules, I saw people in anti-vaccine groups editing it in subtle ways to evade the platforms’ automated enforcement software and reposting it.)

In short, the anti-vaxxers have been practicing for this. And I’m worried that they will be unusually effective in sowing doubts about a Covid-19 vaccine for several reasons.
  • First, fast-track approval of a COVID-19 vaccine might generate real concerns  that the antivaxxers could transmute into paranoid fantasies.
  • Second, Bill Gates will be involved, and they are already spinning conspiracy theories about him.
  • Third, airlines, schools and other organizations may require proof of vaccination, triggering an anti-mandate frenzy.