Needle in a haystack? Anti-vaxx pins may have adverse consequences

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Voltaire has a lot to answer for: Banning anti-vaxx crackpottery a bad idea
Voltaire has a lot to answer for: Banning anti-vaxx crackpottery a bad idea

Related tags Vaccine

Persuasive anti-vaxx posts on social media may stop parents vaccinating their kids say researchers.

A new study published in the journal Vaccine​ suggests the majority of vaccine-related posts on Pinterest are negative.

The study – which analysed 800 posts or 'pins' – found that 75% were negative, ranging from those that questioned vaccine safety to claims jabs are used in secret Government population reduction programmes.

Pinterest is a picture-based social media site that allows users to post items of interest and share them with followers. Pins are searchable and can be accessed by the site’s wider community via a search function.

Pinnners post about a huge range of subjects​ – from cats getting stuck on, in or under things and interior design tips to photos of funky guitars or food.

Go viral

Lead author Jeanine Drost Guidry, from Virginia Commonwealth University, told us anti-vaxx posts “create an environment where vaccines are seen as dangerous or worse, where vaccines are seen as intentionally created to harm​.”

Numerous studies (here​ for example) indicate people search for health information online. Drost Guidry suggested that any Pinterest users researching vaccination may be put off if they find negative material.

Some may be actively looking for information on the safety of vaccines and this [anti-vaxx pins] may lead to these parents not vaccinating their children or themselves, and that can lead to real adverse consequences.” 

Vaccines prevent rather than cure illnesses. As a result their effect may be difficult to visualise for Pinterest users according to Drost Guidry, who contrasted this with anti-vaxx ‘pins’ designed to attract attention.

She said: “The narrative of an anti-vaccine story, regardless of whether the vaccine caused the injury mentioned, is much easier to visualize​.”

No ban

Despite the potential damage to vaccination campaigns, Drost Guidry does not think anti-vaxx ‘pins’ should be removed.

Speech is not regulated for being false, although of course it can be regulated when it is libellous or malicious” ​she said, citing climate change – another focus for conspiracy theorists – as an example.

It is not forbidden to say that climate change does not exist, even though the science behind climate change is clear​.”

Needle in a haystack?

Pinterest told us even though the majority of the 800 vaccine-related pins analysed are negative, the view is not representative of the platform as a whole, pointing out that more than 50 billion items have been shared.

"Pinterest is a place for ideas and sometimes those ideas are controversial or of public concern.  A search for vaccination on Pinterest surfaces top results based on real Pinner searches which currently includes varied information on the issue.

We remove Pins that violate our policies and are vigilant against allowing ads that make medical claims but these general informational Pins don't fall into that category​."

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