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Use of social media and Covid-19 vaccines | Avast


In July 2021, US President Joe Biden made headlines when he said that social media platforms “kill people” by failing to curb the spread of disinformation and misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines. And while Facebook took action against misinformation for the first time in February – with Twitter will follow in March – Numerous studies examining the link between social media and vaccine distrust suggest that it may have been too little and too late.

For example, a study by media researchers at the University of Michigan published in the June 2021 issue of JMIR Publications found that dealing with anti-vaccine news on social media correlates with people decide not to get vaccinated. However, there was no “significant association” between handling pro-vaccine messaging and vaccination.

A survey of over 20,000 people by researchers from Northwestern, Harvard, Northeastern and Rutgers Universities found that “People who rely on Facebook as their primary news source“Covid-19 are less likely than people who get their Covid-19 news from other sources to be vaccinated. And while the researchers point out that their data “cannot conclusively separate cause and effect“- which means they can’t say that the people on Facebook weren’t vaccinated – they find a strong link.

And according to reports from Recode, there is no real way to determine exactly how bad is the problem of vaccine misinformation and disinformation on social media because companies don’t give researchers access to real-time data. As a result, researchers and public policy experts are forced to conduct their own research – like this one Avast Digital Citizenship Report – to get a deeper understanding of the problem.

Is there a connection between preferred social media platforms and reluctance to vaccinate?

To the Avast’s Digital Citizenship Report, we have teamed up with the market research institute YouGov to carry out a globally representative study with over 14,000 people in 14 countries. The survey was conducted between June 15-27, 2021 and examined global attitudes towards the internet, including how – or if – the Covid-19 pandemic has affected internet usage.

As the news of vaccine reluctance and social media increased around the world, we decided to investigate whether there is a link between the place people spend time online and their attitudes towards the vaccine. We asked three questions from six age groups – 18 to 245; 25 to 34; 35 to 44; 45 to 55; 55 to 65; and 65+ – related to this problem:

  • Which social media platforms do you use?
  • Have you spoken to anyone about Covid-19-related topics on social media?
  • Do you have or will you book a Covid 19 vaccination appointment?

Social media and vaccination hesitation in the US

In the US, the age group least likely to book an appointment for a Covid-19 vaccine is 45 to 54 years old, which is 31%, followed closely by 35 to 44 at 29%. With 31% and 29% respectively, they are also most likely to have discussed Covid on social media. Across all age groups, the numbers for those who are not planning to vaccinate and who have discussed Covid on social media are fairly constant: 18% from 18-25; 17% from 25 to 34; 15% from 35 to 44; 18% from 45 to 54; 17% from 55 to 64; and 16% of 65+.

In these age groups, a higher percentage of people use Facebook than any other social media platform (70% and 73%, respectively). However, they are not the age groups with the highest percentage – that’s 55 to 64 with 76% and 65+ with 79%. In addition, Facebook is the most widely used social media platform for every age group, ranging from 50% for 18-25 year olds to 79% for people 65 and over.

Social media and vaccination hesitation around the world

Globally, at the time of the survey, between 21% and 23% of almost all age groups did not plan to book an appointment for a Covid vaccine. The only outlier is age 65+, where the number drops to 16%. This is likely due to the fact that people in this age group are at a very high risk of getting seriously ill and dying from Covid-19.

Contrary to the US numbers, the highest percentage of people who have talked about Covid on social media worldwide are 18-25 and 25-34, both of which are 28%. The 35 to 44 year olds and the 45 to 54 year olds are close to this at 23% and 22%, respectively, after which the number drops to 23% between the ages of 55 and 64 years.

Correlation, causality, social media, and vaccination hesitation

We don’t know exactly what people are doing online, but we can see what percentage of each age group is on which platforms. In the US, Facebook is used by the highest percentage of all age groups, followed by Facebook’s own Instagram for those aged 18 to 34. Globally, it is the most widely used social media platform for all ages except 18 to 24 who prefer Instagram.

However, the data doesn’t delve into how much time people spend on each platform. In other words, while only 39% of 18-25 year olds are on TikTok, they may only be on TikTok or spend more time on TikTok than other platforms.

While these numbers don’t seem to show a link between the social media platform people use most and reluctant vaccination, U.S. – but not global – statistics suggest a possible correlation between those who don’t plan to Book vaccine and whether they don’t book the vaccine or not discuss Covid on social media. Between the ages of 35 and 44, 29% do not plan to be vaccinated and 31% discuss Covid on social media. For 45 to 54 year olds, the numbers are reversed, 31% do not plan to get vaccinated and 29% have talked about Covid on social media.

The Avast Digital Citizenship Report appears to be consistent with previous research findings. There is some link between social media use and hesitant vaccination, but the cause and effect are not yet clear.


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