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Social scientists and data analysts: Why not just ask parents who don’t vaccinate what they believe? Or read the vaccine damage claims?
By Celeste McGovern
Would it make you feel safer to know that your government is monitoring social media for your views on vaccines? Studying us all like lab rats to isolate the anti-vaccine animals, to determine the nature of the beast, his habitat, his resources, his beliefs? That it is culling all this data to be used one day in large government programs to identify the perpetrators of unsafe opinion with ease and to silence them?
No? Well, it is underway.
A study published this month reveals that social scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health have monitored hundreds of thousands of personal tweets to document “trends of anti-vaccination beliefs” on Twitter and to “geolocate” the users of the social media platform and pigeonhole them in demographic categories.
They sifted through 549,972 tweets from January 2009 to August 2015 using Social Studio’s Radian6 application to identify 272,546 tweets that they classified as containing references to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and “anti-vaccination beliefs” within the same tweet.
“The volume of online anti-vaccine beliefs is alarming and may indicate shifts in public opinion, which can translate to lower vaccine coverage,” says the paper led by Theodore S. Tomeny, a psychologist at the University of Alabama.
Tomeny and the other researchers that included a professor of data analytics in mass communication from the University of Boulder-Colorado and someone at the Brave New World sounding Division for Intramural Research at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities calculated “tweet volume” at state level and used CensusReporter’s API and Google Maps Places to “geo-tag” people and then to determine demographic figures to describe them.
What they found is what everybody already knows: Anti-vaxxers have children, they tend to make a lot of money and they are smart. The tweets were concentrated in neighborhoods occupied by a high number of women who had a baby in the past 12 months, households with annual incomes of $200,000 or more and men between ages 40 to 44 with some college education.
They even race profiled anti-vaxxers. “Asian-only race variable was significantly associated with anti-vaccine tweet volume,” they reported.
Anti-vaccine autism tweets coincided with news reports on vaccines, were higher than average in five states: California, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania and spiked in August and September (just when school officials start harassing parents to comply with mandates).
The data analyst set up an interactive website to illustrate anti-vaccine tweets moving around a map of America like a map of election returns. http://chrisjvargo.com/animatedautism/
They call it “Social listening.” “Social listening allows for an examination of vaccination-related beliefs and can serve as an early indicator of shifts in public opinion,” the study says.
“Monitoring social media for anti-vaccine beliefs is beneficial for surveillance and intervention efforts to curtail anti-vaccine beliefs.”
So just what sort of “interventions” are they thinking of?
They say public health professionals should implement “real-time interventions” that, “aided by computer-assisted content analysis software and machine learning algorithms, are designed to instantly detect anti-vaccine tweets and reply with counter messages using the twitter handle (i.e., @username) and/or
hashtag of the original tweet.” They actually claim it’s worked before. Except the study they cite concludes that pro-vaccine public health messages based on actual information usually backfire and make people less likely to vaccinate. And using images of sick children tends to make people fear vaccines more than the diseases they are supposed to prevent.
Their surveillance could allow public health professionals to “target geographic areas where these beliefs are most prevalent” and to tailor their approach to demographics, the researchers said.
But don’t be fooled. These guys are not about winning people over with counter-tweets and they already know they lose in the information battle.
Their real idea is to jackboot people into compliance with views of “social desirability.” Uptake rates for the combined seven-vaccine series have fallen to 80% and below in the five states they cited (71.9% in New York, 72.8% in Pennsylvania, 75.0% in California, 78.5% in Massachusetts, and 80.6% in Connecticut). They don’t want the public to know that educated and wealthy mothers and fathers are vaccinating less and less. They want them to be forced to inject their children.
They note that the “ease of granting exemptions is also associated with a 5% annual increase in non-medical exemptions” and they suggest that ease of obtaining exemptions for vaccines should be “examined.” Code language for “enforced.”
Make no mistake, these are the sort of people that are the reason that Michigan mother Rebecca Bredow is doing jail time right now for refusing to vaccinate her nine-year-old son. And you can bet while she is in there that her child will receive up to eight different injections to “catch him up” on the mandated vaccine schedule. Eight injections are child abuse itself, but the state overriding parental rights and medical freedom is becoming a norm that pro-vaxxers are accepting without thinking it will apply to them one day too. Perhaps when they go to renew their driver’s licence they will need a Gardasil and a flu shot, or when they want to claim a government tax benefit, they will have to get a cancer vaccine or one to prevent opioid addiction, anthrax, ebola or zika or whatever the pharmaceutical companies want to be mandated. They should hope they don’t have a reaction.
Prof. Tomeny and his colleagues could have saved taxpayers a bundle of money if they just asked anti-vaccination parents what they believe. If they want to understand anti-vaccine sentiment, they could watch the hundreds of Vaxxed interviews with grieving mothers. Or read the thousands of vaccine claims that the health departments keep adding to their ever-growing “Stuff To Pretend Doesn’t Exist” pile. Or just read the VAERS database of vaccine adverse reactions.
The fact is that public health officials and data analysts should already know what anti-vaccine parents know. Or they don’t want to know. The anti-vaccine “movement” is comprised mostly of parents who used to be pro-vaccine. They listened to inane public health marketing messages and they did what they were told. And then they saw their children get injured. They are the parents of children who they witnessed regressing from brain damage. Their children have narcolepsy and Type 1 diabetes from flu vaccines. Their children have bowel syndromes and intussusception from rotavirus vaccine. They have skin rashes and hay fever and eczema and food allergies and all kinds of autoimmune diseases. And some have children who are dead from Sudden Infant Death after a round of shots or from a Gardasil vaccine.
All of these conditions are the result of damaged immune systems and they are soaring. Public health officials, pediatricians and social scientists say they haven’t got a clue why. But the parents of damaged children know why and they cite endless sources of medical research to back up what they know about how toxic vaccine ingredients trigger autoimmunity, dangerous immune activation and other damage. The only study to date that looks at vaccinated versus unvaccinated children reveals alarmingly high odds risk ratios for chronic diseases such as autism and allergies among the vaccinated group.
Public health’s answer to this current level of chronic illness in children is to send in social scientists to “counter-tweet” real information with copy and paste pap from pharmaceutical companies. And to silence those who are trying to warn others. The problem is not going to go away, however. They may jail more parents but the Twitter storm is the least of their worries and it will just get louder as the numbers of vaccine hesitators and anti-vaccine resistors keeps growing with the numbers of vaccine-injuries. If public health had any concern for the health of these children, they would not be counting tweets.