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Social Media Use Is Associated with More Frequent Vaccination

Both scholars and journalists have raised concerns that social media use might push down vaccination rates by spreading misinformation about vaccines. The relationship between social media use and vaccine uptake has never been properly examined, however. In a new paper, researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) find that more social media use actually correlates with more vaccination – though the reason for this relationship is different for Democrats and Republicans.

Social media use and vaccination among Democrats and Republicans: Informational and normative influences,” published this month in the journal Social Science & Medicine, examines via survey whether social media use is associated with less or more vaccination. Because social media algorithms can deliver users politically polarizing content, the research team also asked whether this relationship varies by political party.

The researchers found “a consistent positive relation between social media use and vaccination across all major party affiliations,” they report in the paper.

Stephanie L. DeMora, lead author of a paper on vaccination and social media use
Stephanie L. DeMora

“Contrary to frequent perceptions that social media misinformation drives vaccine distrust, we found that consuming health-related social media is associated with more frequent vaccination,” said lead author Stephanie DeMora, a postdoctoral fellow at APPC.

Though this association exists across political parties, the reason for it varied. Use of social media exposed Democrats to more information about new pathogens, and that information predicted greater vaccine uptake. Use of social media led Republicans to believe that people important to them were vaccinated, and that is what predicted vaccine uptake in that group.

Both scenarios, the authors write, “underscore the positive potential for social media campaigns” – especially if those campaigns are tailored to their intended audience.

“Future public health campaigns on social media have the potential to improve health outcomes if they use strategies informed by research into how social media influence members of different groups,” DeMora said.

The APPC research team on the paper included DeMora, the Arlin M. and Neysa Adams postdoctoral fellow; Javier Granados Samayoa, the Vartan Gregorian postdoctoral fellow; and Dolores Albarracín, director of APPC’s Communication Science division.

“Social media use and vaccination among Democrats and Republicans: Informational and normative influences” was published in Social Science & Medicine on June 1, 2024. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2024.117031