Background: The roll out of HPV immunization programs across the United States was hindered by controversy. We tracked the debate in the United States through MySpace, then the most popular social networking site, in order to better understand the public's reaction to the vaccine.
Methods: We searched MySpace for all blog discourse related to HPV immunization. We analyzed each blog according to the overall portrayal of HPV immunization, identified the characteristics of the bloggers, and developed a content analysis to categorize the types of supporting arguments made.
Results: 303 blogs met our inclusion criteria. 157 (52%) of the blogs were classified as positive, 129 (43%) as negative, and 17 (6%) were ambivalent toward HPV immunization. Positive blogs generally argued that HPV infection was effective and there were no reasonable alternatives to immunizing. Negative blogs focused on the risks of immunizing and relied heavily on vaccine-critical publications to support their viewpoint. Of the blogs where gender could be identified, 75 (25%) were posted by men and 214 (71%) by women. 60% of blogs posted by men were explicitly critical about HPV immunization versus 36% of women's blogs. Male bloggers also had larger networks of friends.
Conclusions: We describe a novel and promising approach to the surveillance of public opinions and attitudes toward immunization. In our analysis, men were far more likely to hold negative views about HPV immunization than women and disseminate negative messages through larger social networks. Blog analysis is a useful tool for Public health officials to profile vaccine criticism and to design appropriate educational information tailored to respond to alternative media/alternative information actively disseminated via social media tools. Public health officials should examine mechanisms by which to leverage this media to better communicate their message through existing networks and to engage in on-going dialogue with the public.
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