Vaccine opponents are gaining in Facebook ‘battle for hearts and minds,’ new map shows

The biggest social network in the world has the wrong idea for how to fight Covid-19 conspiracies.

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May 13, 2020

A first-of-its-kind analysis of more than 1300 Facebook pages with nearly 100 million followers has produced a network map that’s alarming public health professionals. Antivaccine pages have fewer followers than pro-vaccine pages but are more numerous, faster growing, and increasingly more connected to undecided pages, the study finds. If the current trends continue, the researchers predict, antivaccine views will dominate online discussion in 10 years—a time when a future vaccine against COVID-19 may be critical to public health.

“The reds are winning,” says anthropologist Heidi Larson, who directs the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, referring to the color of antivaccine Facebook pages on the new paper’s map. “They are covering a lot more ground with fewer of them.”

The online pages are “a battle for hearts and minds, and there was no map of that battlefield at the system level,” says first author Neil Johnson, a data scientist at George Washington University who previously mapped the online behavior of hate groups and the Islamic State group. “We set out to take a look at that. And we were shocked.”

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