Vaccine (mis)information across the land: comparing state legislation and the geographies of Twitter follower networks

Authors: Monica Stephens*, University At Buffalo, Denise Llllvis, University at Buffalo
Topics: Communication, Medical and Health Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: misinformation, disinformation, twitter, social media, vaccine, policy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Coolidge, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Social media has blurred the distinction between experts and laypeople in the production and distribution of information. This shift in trust has provided a forum for malicious actors to popularize divisive misinformation and legitimize “alternative facts.” This paper examines the impact of Twitter follower networks on state level legislation around vaccine policy. We examine the user-generated location of pro-immunization and vaccine critical Twitter accounts and their follower networks to identify if these social media networks affected state-level health policy. Specifically, we examine the progress of 374 bills addressing issues of disease risk, vaccine information, and vaccine exemptions/mandates in 48 states from 2008-2016. We compare the direction of influence on Twitter to the progress of each bill (i.e. committee progress, favorable vote by legislature, passage into law) to understand the influence of social media on public policy. Vaccine policy has profound consequences at the local and state level. This paper identifies how that policy is influenced by non-local (global and national-level) actors.

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