Inside the mind of an anti-vaccination activist

Photo: Sean Gallup/ Getty.

Anti-vaccination activists demonstrate similar beliefs around being persecuted as conspiracy theorists, according to the latest Australian research which analysed Facebook pages and comments.

The study, by Dr Tim Graham at the ANU and Dr Naomi Smith from Federation University, looked at almost 300,000 text comments from 14,700 individual posts on six anti-vaccination Facebook pages from Australia and North America.

“When we analysed what individuals said in these comments, we identified similar topics to conspiracy theorists,” says Graham, from the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science and the ANU School of Sociology.

“They believe the government and the media underplay, deny and perpetuate perceived harms caused by vaccinations.”

The research also found the anti-vaccination movement might be less close-knit than thought.

“Most users of the pages we studied appeared to be transient; they came on, commented on a few posts and then you never see them again,” says Graham.

Information spread extremely rapidly throughout networks, which were resilient to attack or outside influence.

“Interestingly, there was also a significant gender skew,” he says.

“Three-quarters of those involved in the anti-vaccination Facebook pages were women. This is reflective of vaccination still being perceived as ‘a mother’s question’.”

In Australia about 93% of five year olds have been vaccinated, to protect from diseases that can cause serious health problems, under the free National Immunisation Program. However, some anti-vaccination groups Australian groups promote freedom of choice about vaccination.

This latest research was funded through a seed grant provided by Federation University.

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