‘Anti-Vaxxers’ Increasingly Question HPV Vaccine on Facebook

Despite the scientific evidence of the vaccine’s benefits, 45% of the posts had a negative tone toward people getting the vaccine.

A new study from the University of Missouri has found that anti-vaccine advocates have gained traction against the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine on Facebook in recent years, with more than 45% of identified posts having a negative tone toward the vaccine.

The HPV vaccine was first approved by the FDA in 2006. The CDC estimates that approximately 80 million people in the United States are infected with HPV, and 14 million new cases are diagnosed each year. The disease is associated with genital warts and 6 types of cancer in men and women, including cervical and throat cancer.

Monique Luisi, PhD, an assistant professor in the Missouri School of Journalism, identified more than 6500 public Facebook posts about the HPV vaccine within the first decade of the vaccine’s approval. Despite the scientific evidence of the vaccine’s benefits, 45% of the posts had a negative tone toward people getting the vaccine, according to a press release.

Notably, Luisi also observed a negative trend over the course of the 10 years she studied, including increasingly negative attitudes about the vaccine’s safety, efficacy, and whether its use encourages sexual behavior.

“The representation of the HPV vaccine has not only worsened, but negative posts toward the HPV vaccine have received more public engagement, and evidence shows that these negative posts have generated momentum for other related negative posts,” Luisi said in a statement. “It would be one thing if we only saw just the negative information out there. But there’s also negative momentum carried by these posts, and if negative posts are encouraging more people to post other negative content, then we can predict how the conversation is going to go and that people are also being influenced by the messages they see.”

Luisi’s original study did not tackle the implications of these findings, but she said that is her next step. In particular, Luisi plans to study the implications that this content has on parents and guardians as decision-makers. This content and its place on social media have power, Luisi said, adding that it is important for people to recognize that.

“People talk about a lot of things on social media,” she said. “While someone might not be directly involved in a conversation on a particular topic, they still might see that conversation while scrolling through their social media. Therefore, I think it’s important to think about intent when sharing content. Even the simple act of sharing—intentional or unintentional—can influence others.”

REFERENCE

‘Anti-vaxxers’ gain traction against HPV vaccine on Facebook, study finds [news release]. University of Missouri; July 8, 2020. https://news.missouri.edu/2020/anti-vaxxers-gain-traction-against-hpv-vaccine-on-facebook-study-finds/. Accessed July 15, 2020.