Greater freedom of speech on Web 2.0 correlates with dominance of views linking vaccines to autism

Vaccine. 2015 Mar 17;33(12):1422-5. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2015.01.078. Epub 2015 Feb 7.

Abstract

Introduction: It is suspected that Web 2.0 web sites, with a lot of user-generated content, often support viewpoints that link autism to vaccines.

Methods: We assessed the prevalence of the views supporting a link between vaccines and autism online by comparing YouTube, Google and Wikipedia with PubMed. Freedom of speech is highest on YouTube and progressively decreases for the others.

Results: Support for a link between vaccines and autism is most prominent on YouTube, followed by Google search results. It is far lower on Wikipedia and PubMed. Anti-vaccine activists use scientific arguments, certified physicians and official-sounding titles to gain credibility, while also leaning on celebrity endorsement and personalized stories.

Conclusions: Online communities with greater freedom of speech lead to a dominance of anti-vaccine voices. Moderation of content by editors can offer balance between free expression and factual accuracy. Health communicators and medical institutions need to step up their activity on the Internet.

Keywords: Autism; Free speech; Internet; Vaccines; Web 2.0.

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / etiology*
  • Freedom
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • PubMed
  • Social Media*
  • Speech
  • Vaccines / adverse effects*

Substances

  • Vaccines