The more people vaccinated against COVID-19, the clearer the path to herd immunity. To further these goals, PR and advertising agencies have developed many pro-vaccine campaigns, including one featuring all the living U.S. ex-presidents (except one, of course). Still, of all the influences on public health, social media has been singled out for perhaps doing more harm than good right now.
“Anti-vaccination supporters find fertile ground in particular on Facebook and Twitter,” notes a study by the Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine, University of Zurich, Switzerland.
U.S. law enforcement officials echoed this statement last week, when 12 state attorneys general sent letters to Facebook and Twitter noting the companies “should more aggressively combat misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines,” as noted in a Digital News Daily post by Wendy Davis. The attorneys general wrote that anti-vaxxers “are using social media platforms to target people of color and Black Americans.”
Still, social media is also being used to further the vaccination cause -- and, to aid these efforts, the University of Zurich study compared the online behavior of pro- vs. anti-vax Twitter users.
One finding: “Anti-vaccination supporters tweet less, but engage more in discussion,” and retweet more of a small number of posts, leading study authors to hypothesize that “the movement’s success relies on a strong sense of community” -- a community that serves “as a sounding board for anti-vaccination discourse to circulate online.”
Still, pro-vax content was found more engaging, as measured by the total of likes, replies and retweets on each individual tweet. And emotional content and language were associated with increased engagement, with the study’s authors saying “the use of people-centered, first-person narratives with emotional language could aid the communication strategy of pro-vaccine health organizations and individuals.”
That’s a lesson echoed by health care providers “amassing a digital army to win over skeptics,” who say “personal, better targeted messages will prove more effective at encouraging vaccinations,” according to a recent Politico post. Many are working with so-called micro-influencers and “a broad range of voices, including many who don’t boast of huge online followings but hold sway in their communities.”