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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Pittsburgh: Analyzing a Facebook-Fueled Anti-Vaccination Attack: ‘It’s Not All About Autism’

Social media has given those espousing anti-vaccination sentiments an effective medium to spread their message. However, an analysis of a viral Facebook campaign against a Pittsburgh pediatric practice reveals that the movement isn’t “all about autism.” Instead, the research led by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health Health finds that anti-vaccination arguments center on four distinct themes that can appeal to diverse audiences.

The research, published in the journal Vaccine, suggests a framework that pediatricians can use to open a conversation with parents who are hesitant to immunize their children, while also “inoculating” those parents with skills to resist anti-vaccination messages on social media.

In 2017, Kids Plus Pediatrics, a Pittsburgh-based pediatric practice, posted a video on its Facebook page featuring its practitioners encouraging human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination to prevent cancer. Nearly a month after the video posted, it caught the attention of multiple anti-vaccination groups and, in an eight-day period, garnered thousands of anti-vaccination comments.

By delving into the messages that each commenter had publicly posted in the previous two years, the research team found that they clustered into four distinct subgroups: trust, alternatives, safety and conspiracy.

“The presence of these distinct subgroups cautions against a blanket approach to public health messages that encourage vaccination,” said lead author Ms. Beth Hoffman, a graduate student at Pitt Public Health and researcher at Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health.

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