Falling into the Echo Chamber: new scientific study examines the Italian vaccination debate on Twitter

In recent years, following the reappearance of measles in the US and  Europe, a growing debate on the merits of vaccination has spread on social media. In a new study, accepted at the 14th International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM-2020), an international team of scientists including ISI Researchers Alessandro  Cossard, Gianmarco De Francisci Morales, Kyriaki Kalimeri, Yelena  Mejova, Daniela Paolotti and Michele Starnini examines the extent to which the vaccination debate on Twitter in Italy is conductive to potential outreach to the vaccination hesitant.

«We mapped the Twitter debate about vaccines in Italy, a country deeply affected by measles outbreaks, which imposed mandatory vaccinations for children to attend school», says Michele Starnini. «Then we found that pro-vax and anti-vax users segregate into two echo-chambers, with different topologies: anti-vax are arranged in a tightly connected cluster, while pro-vax community shows a star-like structure around few authoritative hubs. On these insights, we built highly accurate network and content-based classifiers to detect pro-vax and anti-vax users, with  95% accuracy».

Vaccine hesitancy has been included in the top 10 threats to global health in  2019 by the World Health Organization. Scientists say insights of this study provide several avenues for potential future interventions,  including network-guided targeting, accounting for the political context, and monitoring of alternative sources of information.

“Falling  into the Echo Chamber: the Italian Vaccination Debate on Twitter”,  Alessandro Cossard, Gianmarco De Francisci Morales, Kyriaki Kalimeri,  Yelena Mejova, Daniela Paolotti, Michele Starnini. 26th March 2020. Link