In recent years, the controversy about vaccine safety has exploded online. Fueled by pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, and ignorance, a surprisingly large number of people today refuse to vaccinate themselves or their children. According to a 2011 poll, nearly a quarter of Americans have changed their opinion on vaccination in the last five years, and for the vast majority of these people, that change has been in a negative direction.
There’s no better tool than social media to spread information—and misinformation—about controversial topics quickly and efficiently, and there has been speculation that these outlets have played a role in heightening concerns about vaccination. But how do opinions about health-related behaviors spread over social media?
A group of researchers from Penn State used Twitter to answer this question, and their findings were published in EPJ Data Science last week.