Anti-Vaxxers More Likely To Vent On Twitter

From - October 9, 2017

Anti-Vaxxers More Likely To Vent On Twitter

MONDAY, Oct. 9, 2017 -- American parents who oppose childhood vaccines often take to Twitter to vent, share and seek reinforcement for the widely disproven notion that these shots can trigger autism, new research shows.

But the phenomenon is unevenly spread, the researchers noted, with states such as California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania leading the pack when it comes to the highest prevalence of Twitter-based vaccine-bashing.

The findings stem from the sifting of roughly 550,000 tweets posted between 2009 and 2015. All of the tweets contained at least one reference to both autism and vaccines, and about half were found to express anti-vaccine sentiments.

"Unfortunately, these results were not terribly unexpected," said study author Theodore Tomeny.

Why? Tomeny suggested "that sites primarily based on user-generated information, like Twitter, may be popular sounding boards for these types of issues because they are uncensored and there is little oversight of the information that is posted."

Tomeny is an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

He and his colleagues, Christopher Vargo of the University of Colorado-Boulder and Sherine El-Toukhy of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, reported their findings in the October issue of Social Science and Medicine.

The research team said that groups that include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Institute of Medicine Board on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention have all stressed that there's no validity to the theory that autism risk is linked to childhood immunizations.

What's more, the small (12 child) 1998 British study most often-cited as "evidence" of an autism-vaccine link was retracted in 2010 by its publisher The Lancet as an example of faulty science.

But given the controversy's persistence, the researchers decided to explore the frequency and nature of the Twitter-based anti-vaccine conversation.

From the larger pool of tweets, 550 were randomly selected for in-depth analysis. That included coding for content, point of view and geographical origin, as well as matching up posts with publicly available census data. The trending popularity of anti-vaccine Twitter postings was also assessed, based on the dating of about 108,000 tweets.

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