The Role of Twitter in Post-Truth Era
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The emergence of social media has provided an alternative platform for the exchange of information and opinions on issues related to health. In spite of scientific evidence cementing the importance of vaccination as a prevention measure against infectious diseases, social media platforms such as Twitter have been used to create and disseminate anti-vaccine sentiments in an era where are more influenced by beliefs and emotions than by factual information. This paper investigates the role of twitter in the post-truth era, with specific reference to measles vaccine hesitancy. The research study employed a case study approach to review 233 twitter posts, accounts, and hashtags relating to the MMR vaccine in the aftermath of the 2015 measles outbreak. These tweets were analyzed to identify the structure and implications of the Twitter narrative. The results capture the structure of the anti-vaccination narrative characterized by a greater impact of information distributed by individuals and news organizations in comparison to the direct tweets of health organizations. The study concludes that Twitter facilitates the distribution of factual and false information which initiates public responses to health-related issues. However, twitter messages which focus on the adverse experiences of measles vaccines are more predominant, a phenomenon leading to increased mistrust and disbelief of the efficacy of the measles vaccine. The eventual result has been the re-emergence and re-distribution of measles. The study recommends a long-term approach to advancing health communication through the design of multiple and more effective strategies to counter opinionated and emotionally appealing information in the post-truth era.
Key terms: social media, Twitter, measles, vaccination, vaccine hesitancy, populism, post-truth.
The Role of Twitter in Post-Truth Era
The current age of ?post-truth,? every fact seems to be the object of debate. This trend has been significantly facilitated the increased access to the internet and social media proliferation which not only enables individuals to find information but also create and share their own content on health-related issues. While this has created an important avenue for discussion of issues of public concern, it also serves as a channel for distributing information, both true and false (Arede, 2019). Therefore, it has become difficult to discern the facts from fake news and falsehoods.
In the wake of the 2015 measles resurgence in different parts of the United States, there has been a need to immunize children against this disease. However, a belief exemption for the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccines based on religious on philosophical concepts is allowed by many states in the U.S. Given that people?s opinions on the MMR vaccines impose serious consequences for public health, there is concern over platforms that enable people to express their beliefs and opinions about vaccination. The anti-vaxxer movement, a body of individuals who are opposed to vaccination based on the belief that vaccines cause health problems is one of the products of the cognitive bias created by social media. Despite the efforts of governmental and non-profit organizations to disseminate information about the benefits of immunization, anti-vaccine sentiments continue to gain momentum. This has been a driver for the re-distribution of measles.
Measles is an extremely infectious illness among children, leading to complicated health conditions and which can be fatal. Before the widespread measles vaccination in the 1980s, the disease caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths. The most successful intervention with reduced infant morbidity and mortality is immunization.
In several developed countries including the United States, vaccine hesitancy is a recent but common phenomenon. Despite the ease of access to the vaccine, many parents refuse to immunize their children due to skepticism about the safety of the MMR vaccine. As such, they perceive mandatory vaccinations as a violation of their freedom of choice. Immunization resistance is linked to the study conducted by Andrew Wakefield and published in the Lancet journal, which established a correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism (Arede, 2019). Others believe in homeopathy, which is the idea that the body naturally heals itself and there is, therefore, no need of medical interventions. The increasing use of social media platforms such as Twitter has amplified the fear of vaccines. The integration of social media technology and populism philosophy is the leading cause of the post-truth era. Social media, especially Twitter, enables the creation of a confirmation bias to concentrate on the information in which people believe. The re-emergence of measles was a result of the viral blend of social media and populism. Paradoxically, measles was revived by the advancement of internet technology.
The general society has developed the notion that information and facts can be accessed directly from online channels without the involvement of experts. This trend has enabled the spread of biased news and fear through social media. Also, social media tends to incline into what people want to hear. These characteristics align with those of the populist movements, which dissent with institutional clout and insist on individual liberty preferences. The success of vaccinations in managing contagious illnesses become an institutional authority, and, consequently, a target for populists. Various political leaders in France and Italy are against the compulsory vaccination of children. Also, president trump, through a post on Twitter, questioned the safety of immunizations (Branswell, 2019). These developments result in a range of confusions about what is right or wrong. In most cases, people are swayed towards the direction of the majority.
The increasing use of Twitter has resulted in complexities in validating the information being spread across the platform in the post-truth age. The term post-truth is held to denote a situation in which pleasing personal ideas and feelings exert a vaster influence relative to objective facts in creating public opinion (Lewandowsky, Ecker & Cook, 2017). The lack of stern control measures on the Twitter platform has significantly contributed to the erosion of trust and responsibility in the present world (Alvermann, 2017). Such unwarranted autonomy for users of the platform has made it easy for public influencers to convey distorted information to redirect public responses. Likewise, the news reported via Twitter is directed to what the users seem to like. For instance, a majority of social media users are attracted to celebrity gossip and politics. In this view, no one has control over truth in the post-truth era, which is characterized by a viral spread of falsehoods through Twitter.
This study examines the contribution of Twitter to the post-truth age, with reference to the re-distribution of measles due to vaccine hesitancy. The research involves an evaluation of various fake publications on Twitter and their impacts on public opinion. Applying the case study approach, the study assesses the correlation between the application of Twitter in the transmission of information to establish how this medium contributes to the measles vaccine hesitancy.
Literature Review
Currently, the world is in a post-truth epoch, where boundaries blur between facts and fabrications, fiction, and true-life. Deception has become the norm of the day. As the number of strangers and friends increases, so do chances to augment the truth. Consequently, a sense of lack of trust with information develops. It is not clear whom one is dealing with, from potential companions to prospective workforces. People are even hiring private investigators to verify the information and data they receive from others.
Social media provides a conducive ground for cheats to convey their propaganda. These platforms have developed into both web-based and mobile applications with the advancement in internet technology (Lewandowsky et al., 2017). The world is interconnected through technology, making it possible for the information to spread virally. However, internet interaction has turned out to be so porous that it is easy to leak insider data through whistleblowing, political propaganda, and the sharing of events within particular settings (Rochlin, 2017). The modern-day politics are an illustration of the post-truth era since political philosophies are often built on uncertified information on social media.
This trend has led to various concerns about the triggers of the casual deceit, which has turned into a pandemic. Many people, even those who have no apparent need to lie, feel the urge to embellish their character. These uncertainties ensue every time leading people, including politicians, police officers, health professionals, and journalists, are exposed as fabulists. There seem to be much enticements and little price for the fabrication of the truth. The motives and impacts of these dissemblers can only be understood through an examination of the water in which they bathe.
The Proliferation of Populism
The concept of populism has spread across the world and gained popularity among upcoming politicians. While populism has been discussed vastly in academic research, it remains a contested notion and is often described as being vague (Engesser, Ernst, Esser & BĀchel, 2016). The vagueness is caused by the different manifestation of populism, which depends on the contextual situations. For instan…