Negative vaccine sentiments are contagious on Twitter, study says

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twitter vaccination contagious (rosaura ochoa)

On  Twitter, anti-vaccination statements appear to be socially contagious while pro-vaccination statements are not, according to a team of researchers who tracked 318,379 pro- and anti-vaccine messages on the social networking website.

Starting in 2009, the team from Penn State University tracked the vaccine-related messages that Twitter users were exposed to, and then observed how those users expressed their own opinions about a new H1N1 influenza vaccine. Positive sentiments would be, for example, an expressed desire to get the H1N1 vaccine, while a negative statement would be a belief that the vaccine caused harm.

The researchers noted that statements expressing negative sentiments about vaccination seemed to encourage followers to tweet further negative sentiments about vaccination. Pro-vaccination sentiments, on the other hand, did not appear to encourage followers to tweet more positive sentiments of their own. In fact, being exposed to a high volume of positive tweets appeared to encourage people to tweet more negative sentiments. “In other words, pro-vaccine messages seemed to backfire when enough of them were received,” said Marcel Salathé, an assistant professor of biology and leader of the research team.

“Cause and effect are difficult to unravel in data such as these, so we can only speculate about why we saw this happen,” Salathé said. “Whatever the reason, the observation is troubling because it suggests that negative opinions on vaccination may spread more easily than positive opinions.”

I recently performed a small study of my own into The 10 most commonly expressed public opinions regarding vaccination.

Are you concerned by these results? Do you think that having an understanding of how positive and negative views on vaccination can spread is important?

You can join our discussion on LinkedInor leave a comment below, I'd love to hear what you think.

If you're interested in hearing more about strategy and innovation in vaccines, you might like to consider attending the World Vaccine Congress and Expo 2013 on the 16-18 April 2013, Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center, Washington DC. You can download the brochure here.

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