Social media is rife with misinformation about the safety of vaccines, according to a new study.
Lead researcher Lucy Elkin's team found that false claims about vaccines are readily available on Google, Facebook and YouTube despite efforts to control access to misinformation through computer programming and policy changes.
Elkin is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Primary Care and General Practice at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
For the study, she and her colleagues searched the internet for information on vaccines by asking questions such as, "Should I vaccinate my child?"
Eighty percent of the links Google generated and 75 percent of YouTube videos were positive about vaccines, but 50 percent of Facebook pages were negative, the researchers found.
"Parents would be able to find information encouraging or discouraging vaccination on the vast majority of the websites, Facebook pages and YouTube videos analyzed, but popular pages on Facebook containing vaccine information were more polarized," Elkin said in university news release.
She said the greater proportion of negative content on Facebook versus YouTube may reflect differences in their censorship policies.
The amount of negative vaccine information on Facebook is concerning, Elkin said, because it makes parents more apt to hesitate getting their kids immunized.
"It is important that vaccine-promoting agencies continue to make every effort to maximize their presence online so that parents who are researching whether or not to vaccinate their children will encounter evidence-based information online," she said.
Doctors can also help by referring parents to credible websites with valid information, Elkin said.
The report was published March 17 in the journal Vaccine.
For more on vaccine safety, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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