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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Maryland: Researchers Explore Spread of Anti-Vaccine Ads on Facebook

In the first study of public health-related Facebook advertising, published in the journal Vaccine, researchers found that a small group of anti-vaccine ad buyers has successfully leveraged Facebook to reach targeted audiences, and that the social media platform’s efforts to improve transparency have actually led to the removal of ads promoting vaccination and communicating scientific findings. 

The research team, co-led by the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Dr. Sandra C. Quinn, George Washington University’s Dr. David Broniatowski and Johns Hopkins University’s Dr. Mark Dredze, examined more than 500 vaccine-related ads served to Facebook users.

Their findings reveal that the majority of advertisements which opposed vaccination were posted by only two groups funded by private individuals, the World Mercury Project and Stop Mandatory Vaccination, and emphasized the purported harms of vaccination. 

“In today’s social media world, Facebook looms large as a source of information for many, yet their policies have made it more difficult for users to discern what is legitimate, credible vaccine information. This puts public health officials, with limited staff resources for social media campaigns, at a true disadvantage, just when we need to communicate the urgency of vaccines as a means to protect our children and our families,” said Dr. Quinn, professor and chair of the Department of Family Science.

Because Facebook categorizes ads about vaccines as “political,” it has led the platform to reject some pro-vaccine messages and penalize pro-vaccine content since Facebook requires disclosure of funding sources for ‘political’ ads.

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