15 Nov Coordinated Anti-Vaccine Groups Target Women of Childbearing Age on Facebook
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Sandra Crouse Quinn, PhD
Professor and Chair, Department of Family Science
Senior Associate Director, Maryland Center for Health Equity
School of Public Health
University of Maryland
College Park, MD
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Millions of Americans use Facebook (FB) for a variety of purposes, including seeking health information. However, it is difficult for FB users to discern what is credible and scientifically sound information on the platform. Facebook ads also focus on health issues including vaccination, which is labelled by FB as an issue of national importance. We were the first team to conduct a research study examining the FB Ad Archive and analyzed ads that contained vaccine content.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: Half of all anti-vaccine Facebook ads were run by two groups: “World Mercury Project” and the group “Stop Mandatory Vaccination.” Many of the anti-vaccine groups, including Children’s Health Defense, are closely aligned. Unlike the pro-vaccine ads, purchased by a much larger number of groups, the themes of the anti-vaccine ads are purported vaccine harms and injuries, risk, alleged fraud, and vaccine choice. The anti-vaccine ads are highly targeted, particularly as women of child-bearing age. Facebooks policies unintentionally limited the ability of health organizations to promote pro-vaccine messages.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Few people realize the control that Facebook advertisers have to target their message. For a few thousand dollars, a small number of anti-vaccine groups have been exploiting vulnerabilities and potentially undermining the trust of the public in vaccines that have been proven safe and effective. One example is that during the measles outbreak in Washington state, a major anti-vaccine advertiser purchased multiple advertisements targeted at women of child-bearing age in the state. This type of advertising can place children at unnecessary risk.
It is also important for the public to understand that advertisements from groups that appear to be grassroots groups of parents are in fact the work of the close coordination by several large anti-vaccine groups; the public is deliberately targeted with misinformation in order for these organizations to make money and undermine public trust.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Future research can focus on monitoring Facebook in their efforts to adhere to their newly announced policy to block advertisements with false content and disallow targeting advertisements to people interested in vaccine controversies.
Secondly, further research should focus on examining the extent to which exposure to false content in FB ads impact attitudes toward vaccines and willingness to engage with health care providers to make informed decisions on vaccines.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: We hope that publicity of this study will alert the public to the risks of such coordinated advertising campaigns, and educate Facebook about the dangerous implications of such advertising for the public’s health. Few public health agencies have the same level of financial and human resources they can devote to create credible, science-based advertisements to promote vaccines and target them appropriately to those for whom the vaccines are recommended.
The paper Vaccine-related advertising in the Facebook Ad Archive was written by Amelia M. Jamison, David A. Broniatowski, Mark Dredze, Zach Wood-Doughty, DureAden Khana and Sandra Crouse Quinn and published in the journal Vaccine
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