Facebook Is A Haven For Anti-Vaccine Movement

No matter what Mark Zuckerberg or the folks at Facebook do, unfortunately, there is little that can be done to stop the spread of misinformation. The Washington Post reports citing a study done by sociologists in Australia, that the anti-vaccine movement has been able to cluster in Facebook groups but seems to have become a lot more tribal as well as active in the process:

Facebook didn’t create the anti-vaccine movement. But according to Smith and Graham’s research, anti-vaxxers on Facebook exist in what sociologists call a “small world” network. Such users cluster themselves into cliques, the members of which share connections with one another. This simplifies the movement of ideas immensely. In the real world, anti-vaccine networks are sparse, and finding similarly minded people takes a lot of effort. But Facebook can connect any two anti-vaxxers in just one or two steps.

The result is a highly self-reinforcing network that moves information quickly and efficiently. If one page somehow shuts down or loses its influence, others in the network quickly pick up the slack.

Facebook’s anti-vaccine network is also more sophisticated than a group of people simply positing the debunked belief that vaccines cause autism. The pages usually do not identity as “anti-vaccine,” but instead as “pro-safe vaccines” or in favor of “vaccine choice.” The authors of the study argue that the online network provides anti-vaxxers with a sense of support, offering firsthand anecdotes of harmful vaccines — despite a dearth of scientific evidence — and tapping into the fears of parents, especially mothers. The study found that some 70 percent of activity from the anti-vaccine movement on Facebook over a three-year period came from women.

The intriguing aspect of the news story is that most of the anti-vaccine activism is conducted women and that Facebook allows anti-vaccine groups to not only group themselves but quickly work to set up pages if others are taken down. Despite the fact that the activists spread misinformation is not necessarily a reason to take down anti-vaccine pages nor end groups where anti-vaccine activists organize. It is best summed up in this paragraph of The Post‘s news story:

At the very least, Facebook should keep data open for social researchers to look through. And political scientists should take up the challenge to analyze that massive trove of information. To address the epidemic of misinformation, lawmakers and the media need to think creatively to promote real information to consumers. Anti-vaxxers tend to accept personal testimony, so Smith suggests that the key is talking to them on their own terms — translating hard facts into lived experience.

The key to overcoming information, objections and accusations from misinformed or intentionally deceptive sources is to study their material and respond to it in kind. This also means reading and understanding their mindset so as to better counter the source itself. The free flow of information does not mean false information should be censored but available for scrutiny and response since the most consistent and informed person in a public forum nearly always wins.