At Wired, Renee Diresta and Gilad Lotan present an interesting analysis of “Anti-Vax Twitter,” a small, loud, and highly organized group of antivaxxers using Twitter to maximize their impact on policy and public sentiment.

To take a closer look at how anti-vax Twitter organizes its attacks, specifically against the California legislation, we analyzed the hashtags used by people in the network. In network graphs like the one above, circular nodes are Twitter handles; larger nodes indicate accounts with more followers within the network, making their tweets more likely to be seen and acted upon. That’s called “high centrality.” The lines between the nodes represent follower relationships. Different colors represent communities of people who are sharing a similar message, and the distance between regions is based on common ties—the closer a colored group is to another, the more shared connections its members have, and the more likely information is to spread amongst the groups.

Advertisement

It’s no mystery that Twitter can be used to amplify a message (an analysis of 2014’s conspiracy-fueled #cdcwhistleblower hashtag found 25% of the 250,000 tweets labeled with the hashtag between August 18 and December 1 of 2014 were traceable to “10 prominent anti-vax accounts”). But Diresta and Lotan’s investigation goes beyond such basic twitter metrics. More fascinating is what their analysis reveals about the relationships between seemingly disparate Twitter communities, and how these relationships evolve in response to current events.

For instance, when anti-vax tweeters changed course in response to political roadblocks, “a new group [emerged] in the space between ‘Antivax Twitter’ and ‘Conservative Twitter’.” Diresta and Lotan call this new group “vaccine choice” Twitter. Notably, it eschews conspiracy and crap science in favor of freedom-rhetoric:

The tweeters are the same individuals who have long been active in the autism-vaccine #cdcwhistleblower network. And originally, much of the content shared in #sb277 [the California State Assembly will soon vote on SB-277, which would “eliminate the exemption from existing specified immunization requirements based upon personal beliefs, but would allow exemption from future immunization requirements deemed appropriate by the State Department of Public Health for either medical reasons or personal beliefs.”] focused on the same anti-vax pseudoscience underlying #cdcwhistleblower. However, as bad science and conspiracies repeatedly lost in legislative votes, anti-vaxxers updated their marketing: They are now “pro-SAFE vaccine” parental rights advocates. Instructions to the group now focus on hammering home traditionally conservative “parental choice” and “health freedom” messaging rather than tweeting about autism and toxins.

Advertisement

“Health freedom,” aka the right to subject your child and the children of others to such liberties as the freedom measles and freedom pertussis. ‘Murica.

Read the full analysis at Wired.


Contact the author at rtgonzalez@io9.com.

Advertisement