The antivaccins will they win the battle of information ?
A little bit everywhere in North America, and to Quebec at the end of the week, activists opposed to the containment have found allies in unexpected among the groups antivaccins. In fact, they have a force that the defenders of scientific information that is rigorous don’t have : they are organized.
A study published last week in the journal Nature put a figure on this network : nearly 100 million people, interconnected to varying degrees around the world. Their pages in Facebook are more numerous, show a faster growth and are more connected to the pages of the undecided, such as associations of parents or schools. The researchers add that even if the trend continues, the views of the antivaccins might dominate online discussions in 10 years.
This analysis of more than 1300 pages in Facebook, made in 2019, so before the pandemic, has produced a map alarming for public health professionals. The clusters antivaccination, although more modest, are able to bind strongly to the clusters undecided on Facebook, whereas the clusters provaccination are more peripheral.
The pandemic has, therefore, been for the antivaccins an opportunity : it was easier to rotate the discussion on the subjects dear to their hearts. This is the way it has been able to see them contribute massively to the promotional campaign for the “documentary” Plandemic earlier this month — their networks were already willing to mobilize in its favour — and it is thus that we have seen, on a smaller scale, wave placards against Bill Gates, the 5G or the pharmaceutical companies, during protests calling for an end to the confinement in California or elsewhere.
For this study, the researcher Neil Johnson and his team from the Institute of data from the George Washington University, have identified a total of 124 pages supporting the vaccination, bringing in 6.9 million subscribers and, on the other side, 317 pages against the vaccine, for a total of 4.2 million followers. They have also noted the pages, who seemed engaged in the conversation, but the more “undecided”, is 885 pages on Facebook, such as Breastfeeding Moms in Kentucky, which has 74.1 million subscribers. It is these last pages that will reveal the most significant to measure the impact of ideas from one part to another.
The result shows that the pages Facebook of antivaccination are more related to the pages undecided : they play on emotion, ” says Heidi Larson, the Vaccine Confidence Project (“do you love your children ?”). They are gaining converts ” with personalized messages “, sometimes built on fear (” the vaccines are going to kill you “), but not only.
In comparison, the pages that explain what a vaccine is or the benefits have been shown for vaccination, such as those of the ministries of Health of various countries, or WHO, are often part of networks “disconnected” from the “main battlefield”, as the researchers call it. What to say to them that the provaccins are fighting in the wrong place in order to disseminate their information, in contrast to the antivaccins, more likely to discuss with the undecided.
Other observers have recently noted the increased presence of antivaccins in the discourse surrounding the pandemic, including through movements that demanded the removal early containment in the United States. In a story in the New York Times on may 2, we could read that the known activists in their respective regions for their opposition to vaccines “had been involved in demonstrations” in several States, “where they had found an attentive ear, with their arguments for personal freedom and their suspicion of the government.”
“I see the community of antivaccins” in their private groups Facebook and Instagram, added on may 13, the chronicler technology of the Times, Kevin Roose. “They are much better organized and strategic than their critics think. They are experts in manipulation, good communicators and adept at exploiting the weaknesses of social media platforms.” Even the media coverage of the research in view of a future vaccine will be to their advantage : they are obviously against a vaccine, but if he has a faster-than-expected, they will defend the idea that the research has not been made in the standards.
“One of the things that we discover,” says Rupali J. Limaye, who is studying the sociological behavior associated with vaccines at the Johns Hopkins University, “is that the rhetoric is very similar between the antivaccins and those who claim the déconfinement”. And some of the theories are permeable : the assertion that Bill Gates is at the heart of a worldwide conspiracy to vaccinate force the population, has found momentum in the group conspiracy of the extreme right QAnon, and is today shared both by antivaccins by groups that cast doubt on the pandemic.
The analysis of data published in Nature was carried out during outbreaks of measles, 2019. In eight months, some of the pages antivaccins had increased their number of subscribers up to 500 %, while most of the pages provaccins had increased by less than 50 %.
In the worst case scenario, the opposition to vaccination could even amplify disease outbreaks, as was the case for measles in 2019. Distrust of scientists is frequently accompanied, in these circles, an appeal to the home remedies and conspiracy theories.