Massey is an associate professor of community health and prevention in the Dornsife School of Public Health.
There’s been a resurgence in misleading anti-vaccination messages and related misinformation spreading through social media, and public health communicators need to be strategic to combat it, says Philip Massey, an associate professor of community health and prevention in the Dornsife School of Public Health.
“By studying what makes these messages so effective online, we can improve fact-based, pro-vaccination messaging aimed at improving public health,” he says.
The key is to capture attention with storytelling. Massey is senior author of a National Cancer Institute-supported study published in late 2019 in the journal Health Education and Behavior that found that health campaigns on social media aimed at increasing human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination may see greater success if they blend information with a narrative. In addition to Massey, co-authors include Matthew D. Kearney and Michael Hauer of Drexel, and Preethi Selvan and Amy E. Leader of Thomas Jefferson University.
“By studying what makes these messages so effective online, we can improve fact-based, pro-vaccination messaging aimed at improving public health.”
The benefits of the HPV vaccine in preventing a number of cancers in boys and girls are well-documented, yet the anti-vaccine movement has gained ground in recent years through “bots” and efforts by groups to spread false information through online communities.
Drexel researchers analyzed English-language Instagram posts about HPV vaccination and found that although the majority of posts were pro-vaccine (56 percent), anti-vaccine messages received much higher engagement, including more “likes.”
Most anti-vaccine messages featured a narrative structure, whereas only 28 percent of pro-vaccine posts featured personal narratives or other story elements. Pro-vaccine messages (72 percent) typically shared actionable information about the vaccine instead.
The takeaway? Pro-vaccine posts may draw greater attention to their information and evidence if they use a more narrative structure to disseminate their message.