An Information Behaviour Approach to Conspiracy Theories: Listening in on Voices from Within the Vaccination Debate

Information Research
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Information Research: an international electronic journal, 2016, 22 (1)
Issue Date:
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INTRODUCTION. We report on a research study that uses the vaccination debate as a case to understand the information worlds of conspiracy theories. We pay specific attention to the information behaviours of the believers of anti-vaccination theories through self-reports of people who have since converted to pro-vaccination and examine the circumstances under which this belief revision occurred. METHOD. We used publicly available data, mainly from a curated portal for personal blogs where converts from anti-vaccination to pro-vaccination post the stories of their information journeys. ANALYSIS. Text from blog posts about the personal experiences from twelve different individuals on the topic were manually coded and analysed by two researchers using content analysis, which was informed by a constructive grounded theory approach. RESULTS. All twelve individuals moved from a paradigm of passionate belief in anti-vaccination, primarily based on online and social media information, and toward a more informed understanding, only when the issue affected them in a very personal manner. This prompted them to seek authoritative information from a healthcare professional, after which they shed their fears and reservations about vaccines, and proceeded to vaccinate their children. CONCLUSION. People trust their primary health care professionals, but they do not often hear such trusted and authoritative voices on social media and the Internet, which has become the first point of information seeking for many. Social media and many other open online forums often bring the polarised voices on both sides of the debate to the forefront, drowning out any other voices. Hence, we argue that there is a need for first-line healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, who are trained to address patients’ concerns, to engage with social media.
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