Research highlight

Human behaviour: Mapping online vaccination sentiment


May 14, 2020

Interactions on social media between pro-, neutral and anti-vaccination views and how they may influence each other are mapped in a study published online in Nature this week. The research provides insights into how distrust in scientific expertise on vaccines can evolve in online communities.

Neil Johnson and colleagues used information from Facebook to map vaccination opinion online for nearly 100 million people. These individuals were found to be connected to specific Facebook pages that represent pro-, neutral or anti-vaccination views, forming clusters that interact across countries and languages. The size of each cluster was determined by the number of fans for a particular Facebook page.

The authors found that, despite anti-vaccination being a minority view numerically, it was positioned centrally within the network. Anti-vaccination clusters were also heavily entangled with clusters associated with neutral opinions on vaccination (these were Facebook pages that focused on vaccination or a topic associated with vaccination but that did not take a clear stance for or against). By contrast, pro-vaccination clusters were found to be on the periphery of the map. The authors suggest, therefore, that anti-vaccination clusters are able to reach neutral clusters more easily, which could in turn lead to the recruitment of people who previously held neutral views on vaccination.

In a theoretical framework, the authors were able to reproduce the rise in anti-vaccination support that occurred in 2019 and predict that this view could become the dominant opinion on vaccination in a decade. They argue that an understanding of the network dynamics could help inform approaches to disrupt the growth in negative attitudes towards vaccination and other issues, such as climate change.

doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2281-1

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