Communication Is Not a Virus: COVID-19 Vaccine-Critical Activity on Facebook and Implications for the ‘Infodemic’ Concept

Tauel Harper, Sian Tomkinson, Katie Attwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In February 2020 the World Health Organization declared an ‘infodemic’ in relation to COVID-19. The label infers that people are being contaminated by ‘misinformation’ as they would be by a virus. However, this metaphor conveys a simplistic empirical understanding of communication, which may encourage ‘information control’ responses. This article argues for the importance of understanding the diverse factors that impact the effectiveness of communication–including the context in which it is received, and the emergent properties created through communication processes. Analyzing ‘vaccine-critical’ Facebook activity in Australia between 1 December 2020 and 28 February 2022, we find that controlling access to or censoring vaccine-critical misinformation does not lead to a reduction in vaccine-critical narratives. Rather, discussions continue based on more tenable political and social arguments. Further, bans antagonize vaccine-critical Facebook users and encourage them to move to other platforms where they may be radicalized. Crucially, recruitment to vaccine-critical sites accelerated following both bans of ‘misinformation’ and the introduction of vaccine mandates, suggesting that such responses can lead to increased discontentment. Accordingly, we call for researchers, policy makers and media platforms to engage with a more nuanced view of communication, acknowledging the powerful role of audiences’ uses and gratifications in determining the effectiveness of public health messaging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)563-573
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Health Communication
Volume27
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

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