Anti-Vaccine Messages on Facebook: A Preliminary Audit
Introduction: The World Health Organization (2019) lists vaccine hesitancy as one of ten threats to global health. The anti-vaccination movement uses Facebook to promote messages on the alleged dangers and consequences of vaccinating. We wanted to know more about the on-line messages, myths, and alleged consequences about vaccines. What news articles, testimonials, and scientific studies are being promoted?
Methods: We proposed to use a social media audit tool and three categorical lists to capture information on websites and posts respectively. Keywords “vaccine”, “vaccine truth” and “anti-vax” were entered in the search bar of Facebook. The Facebook page was examined if it had between 2500 and 150,000 likes. Data about beliefs, calls to action, and testimonials were recorded from posts and listed under Myths and Truths and Consequences. Website data were entered in the Social Media Audit Template.
Results: Users’ posts reflected fear and vaccination hesitancy resulting from the alleged dangers of vaccination featured on the website links. Vaccines were blamed for afflictions such as autism, cancer, and infertility. Mothers shared testimonies on alleged consequences their children have suffered due to vaccination, which have influenced other parents to not vaccinate their children. Different child vaccine schedules between countries were used to discredit the importance of exposure. Users denied the current measles outbreaks in the United States to be true, retaliating against the government in protests for fabricating news. Users also displayed a decrease in trust in their health care providers.
Conclusion: Facebook messages encourage prevailing myths about the safety and consequences of vaccines and likely contribute to parents’ vaccine hesitancy. Deeply concerning is the mistrust social media has cast upon the relationship between health care providers and the public. Public health nurses may face this controversy, but a grasp of common misconceptions can help support future practice.