… “We expected to find a network where establishment medical science/government public health advice (‘Blue’) forms a very large strong core, surrounded by a small number of fairly disorganized communities expressing a fringe view, like opposing vaccines (‘Red’). We found the complete opposite,” Johnson said. “Instead, there’s a complex, three sided online war over trust in establishment medical science and health guidance—and Red is now in the driving seat.
“Instead of it being a two-sided war of Red vs Blue, anti-vaccination has pulled in the huge population of people who ordinarily don’t talk a lot online about such issues; communities on Facebook of pet lovers or parents with a particular interest. These users are akin to a civilian population in an insurgency. We call them ‘Green.’ Blue is fighting in the wrong place, off to one side.”…
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.”
For their study, Johnson and his colleagues first identified Facebook pages as pro- or antivaccine based on their content. They further identified engaged but undecided pages by their content or by the fact that the administrators of the pages had “liked,” or been “liked” by, pro- or antivaccine pages. They found 124 pro-vaccine pages, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with a combined total of 6.9 million followers. They found 317 antivaccine pages, such as RAGE Against the Vaccines, with a total of 4.2 million followers. And they identified 885 pages, such as Breastfeeding Moms in KY, with 74.1 million followers.
The researchers next counted each page’s links to other vaccine-discussing pages, and those pages’ links to still others, a method called snowball sampling. A software program turned the data into a map in which pages are represented as circular nodes, sized proportionally to their number of followers and represented as red (antivaccine), blue (pro-vaccine), or green (undecided). Highly connected nodes occupy more central places on the map.
The map shows many central red nodes intensely interacting with many greens. A smaller number of blue nodes interact with greens at a peripheral nexus removed from the central “battlefield,” as the researchers call it in this week’s issue of Nature. The analysis found that antivaccination pages are both locally and globally connected, whereas pro-vaccine pages are largely global or national.
In percentage terms, red pages grew their follower numbers notably more than did blue pages during the study period of February to October 2019, which coincided with a global measles outbreak. Red pages’ connectedness and influence also grew more than those of blue pages. (Total followers of all pages have since grown by millions.)
“The blues are fighting in the wrong place, they are off to one side and the main activity is around the reds which are absolutely entangled with this whole slew of green communities,” Johnson says.
Blue and red pages also engage followers differently, says Larson, who was not part of the research. Pro-vaccine groups impart information on one theme with one goal: getting people vaccinated, she notes. By contrast, the study found that antivaccine groups comprise multiple smaller groups discussing a wide range of health and safety topics. That makes them more responsive to diverse concerns and makes undecided people feel listened to, Larson says. “It’s like we as a public health community still have the old IBM model and not the startup Silicon Valley approach. … The reds have got that down.”
Pro-vaccine pages “seem to be in an echo chamber and their preaching doesn’t seem to go any further than the choir,” agrees Bruce Gellin, president of global immunization at the Sabin Vaccine Institute. …
Nature article: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01423-4
The increasingly militaristic echo chamber effect is an artifact of the overall approach to analyzing reality among the two groups. People who are thoroughly entrained into the spontaneous info-feedback loops which construct official doctrine (which are preferentially fertilized by economic feedback loops such as corporations and captured government agencies), e.g. medical researchers and other beneficiaries of the status quo, naturally congregate into groups which don’t disturb their relatively fragile psychological equilibrium. Practically any belief system can be rationalized in a sufficiently complex matrix with the right reward loops, the history of science is full of examples of this.
People with a broader perspective. perhaps educated in the university of hard knocks, are more resilient and adaptive to “novel” influences. Perhaps the money factor is analogous to the distribution of dopamine receptors in delusional people.
In any case, the ongoing exposure of carefully concealed medical megascandals such as infant circumcision is rapidly eroding confidence in official doctrine and broadening the perspectives of new parents who have no psychological investment in the status quo. The “brain” is becoming less delusional, but the defense mechanisms of the establishment are still very active.
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