Fears anti-vax explosion fuelled by social media


Vaccination remains a contentious issue for Fremantle parents, whose children have some of the lowest immunisation rates in the country. Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Researchers are predicting an explosion in anti-vaccination sentiment in the next decade as online conspiracy theories and misinformation grows on social media.

A study by scientists at George Washington University, which examined the social media interactions of nearly 100 million people, revealed that ‘undecided’ respondents developed anti-vaccination opinions when connected to Facebook.

“The research provides insights into how distrust in scientific expertise on vaccines can evolve in online communities,” the researchers say.

University of Western Australia political scientist Katie Attwell conducted research into vaccination attitudes in Fremantle and found that it is incredibly difficult to combat the spread of misinformation surrounding vaccines on social media.

“People don’t accept factual information from sources they distrust, or they disregard,” Ms Attwell says.

“People do accept factual information when it is framed in a way that links to their values,” Ms Attwell says.

While Australia has a high rate of immunisation at 91.46 per cent for two-year olds, Fremantle – which is an alternative lifestyle hub – is a low performing region, with 87.82 per cent of toddlers fully immunised.

Ms Attwell says that the key is to align vaccination with community values and she says that adjusting the cultural cognition of community groups should be considered by government.

“We learn, acquire and engage with information based on the culture in which we are receiving it,” she says.

“There are two things you can do with people that don’t want to vaccinate- you can work on their hearts and minds, or you can just make them.

“But these are also very problematic things to do as they can make things worse,” Ms Attwell says.

The authors of the US study argue that their study can inform new policies and approaches to interrupt this shift to negative views on vaccination.