Understanding Anti-Vaccination Attitudes in Social Media


  • Tanushree Mitra Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Scott Counts Microsoft Research
  • James Pennebaker




The anti-vaccination movement threatens public health by reducing the likelihood of disease eradication. With social media’s purported role in disseminating anti-vaccine information, it is imperative to understand the drivers of attitudes among participants involved in the vaccination debate on a communication channel critical to the movement: Twitter. Using four years of longitudinal data capturing vaccine discussions on Twitter, we identify users who persistently hold pro and anti attitudes, and those who newly adopt anti attitudes towards vaccination. After gathering each user’s entire Twitter timeline, totaling to over 3 million tweets, we explore differences in the individual narratives across the user cohorts. We find that those with long-term anti-vaccination attitudes manifest conspiratorial thinking, mistrust in government, and are resolute and in-group focused in language. New adoptees appear to be predisposed to form anti-vaccination attitudes via similar government distrust and general paranoia, but are more social and less certain than their long-term counterparts. We discuss how this apparent predisposition can interact with social media-fueled events to bring newcomers into the anti-vaccination movement. Given the strong base of conspiratorial thinking underlying anti-vaccination attitudes, we conclude by highlighting the need for alternatives to traditional methods of using authoritative sources such as the government when correcting misleading vaccination claims.




How to Cite

Mitra, T., Counts, S., & Pennebaker, J. (2021). Understanding Anti-Vaccination Attitudes in Social Media. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 10(1), 269-278. https://doi.org/10.1609/icwsm.v10i1.14729