Masters's thesis presentation: Boglarka Merkl

The candidate will present her thesis:

Anti-vaccinationism on Facebook in Norway - Tools, strategies, results

Bildet kan inneholde: Tekst, Font.

Resistance to vaccination has existed as long as the practice of vaccination itself. The strong beliefs behind the anti-vaccination movements have remained remarkably unchanged over time, which is important to keep in mind when trying to understand the acts of these movements. Anti-vaccination activists have always been the opponents of the state regarding questions about public health and the freedom of individual choice, even in Norway where vaccination is not compulsory.

The widespread of the internet and the rise of web 2.0 has opened a broad road for public Health communication and thus for anti-vaccinationists as well. The new perspectives of freedom of Speech provided by internet technologies enable anti-vaccine groups to effectively spread their messages. With the rise of the social media platforms, anti-vaccinationist voices seem to be louder than ever.

Vaccine refusal has dangerous consequences that go far beyond the individual. My project aims to shed light on a very relevant and growing public societal issue by investigating the communication strategies represented in certain Facebook groups and pages supporting vaccine refusal in Norway.

My primary focus in this study is on the critical analysis of the arguments, communication tools and strategies used by anti-vaccintaionists in certain Facebook groups and pages. As the first layer of my critical discourse analysis I have looked at ten of the most frequently used arguments against vaccination in the investigated discussions. These include amongst others concerns about vaccine side effects and vaccine ingredients and the denial of the concept of herd immunity. Going deeper in my critical discourse analysis, I have found that vaccine opponents use a set of rhetorical and emotive appeals when talking about their arguments. The rhetorical appeals involve the ways of how anti-vaccinationists present themselves in an authoritative role and in the role of a scientific expert by referencing quasi official organisations with names implying official status and websites lacking scientific evidence besides using further rhetorical techniques. By operating with emotive appeals, anti-vaccinationists target the emotions of those hesitating about vaccinating, by substituting personal testimonies for data, sharing powerful images and presenting themselves as martyrs, concerned friends and responsible parents in search for the truth. In the third layer of my analysis I have found that metaphors, besides being powerful communication tools, truly reflects of how the members of the anti-vaccination movements see the world. By examining the arguments, strategies and tools used by anti-vaccinationists, this study provides us an overview of how the activists discredit vaccination – and how they can possibly engage those who hesitate about immunisation in refusal.

Supplemented by an overview of the interaction between anti-vaccination activists and the Norwegian health authorities, my thesis has the added potential to explore well-functioning ways of science communication on today’s transforming social media landscape, in order to serve societal needs caused by public health issues.

Published June 11, 2019 10:47 AM - Last modified Nov. 3, 2021 11:56 PM