Social media has a history of being a popular place for health discussions, and the HPV vaccine is one of the most discussed vaccines on the internet. Monique Luisi, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has studied more than 6,500 public HPV vaccine-related posts on Facebook from 2006 to 2016.
Luisi suggests this negative trend on Facebook may also cause people to develop a false perception of the health risk of HPV vaccines.
After looking at the percentage of posts that made the vaccine seem more dangerous, less dangerous, or neither, Luisi found nearly 40% of Facebook posts about the HPV vaccine amplified a perceived risk, and the study data suggests these posts had momentum over time.
"We should not assume that only the disease is perceived as a risk, but when research supports it, that medical treatments and interventions might unfortunately also be perceived as risks," she said. "It's more likely that people are going to see things on social media, particularly on Facebook, that are not only negative about the HPV vaccine but will also suggest the HPV vaccine could be harmful. It amplifies the fear that people may have about the vaccine, and we see that posts that amplify fear are more likely to trend than those that don't."