Facebook Users Comment on Vaccines: The Top-Most Viewed Article of 2016

This year’s most-viewed article on ContagionLive combined two hot-button issues: social media and vaccination.

Contagion’s most-viewed article of 2016 detailed a study examining how Facebook users expressed pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine viewpoints.

The study focused on a photo posted by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with his infant daughter at the doctor’s office, with the caption, “Doctor’s visit—time for vaccines!” Posted on January 8, 2016, the photo went on to receive more than 3.4 million Facebook reactions, 83,000 comments, and 36,000 shares. The researchers saw the large volume of Facebook user interaction with the post as an opportunity to analyze how people on both sides of the debate see the risks and benefits of vaccination.

The study was published in the journal, Vaccine, and included findings from an analysis of about 1,400 Facebook user comments on Zuckerberg’s post. The researchers approached the study aware that although the internet has become a useful tool for information gathering on health issues, it has also become an “echo chamber” where misinformation about vaccines and anti-vaccination attitudes have spread. This has led to a decrease in vaccination rates and in some cases outbreaks of diseases once largely eradicated.

In their analysis of the user comments, and to their surprise, the authors found that comments in favor of vaccination tended to express more anxiety around issues such as herd immunity, while comments against vaccination were structured more logically and included more commentary on health, biology, and scientific research. “This concerns us because the scientific evidence is very clear in demonstrating the safety and benefits of vaccines,” said study author Kate Faasse, PhD, in a press release. “Because these skeptical comments appear on the surface to be quite logical and, because they focus on health, biology, and research, they may be particularly compelling for parents who are uncertain about what decision to make about childhood vaccination and are seeking more information.”

The authors hope their findings can inform how health officials communicate and address concerns regarding vaccination, says Dr. Faase, noting that “greater insight about the specific worries people have about vaccination and decisions not to vaccinate can help us provide accurate information to better address these concerns.”

The original article, “Study Examines Facebook User Comments on Vaccines,” is available here.