Metro: Twitter To Blame For Vaccine Fears

December 20, 2010 at 4:20 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Media) (, , , , , , , , , , )

The Metro has published an article quoting Prof John Oxford as saying that Twitter is partly to blame for the low uptake of vaccines.

While it’s true that there are twitter users who are anti-vaccine, I’ve not heard of any high-profile twitterers scaremongering about the flu vaccine. I would be very surprised indeed if any of those tweeting “utter nonsense” about vaccination had anything like the reach of, say, the Daily Mail or the Metro.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, the Mail are now warning of a flu crisis and reporting that pregnant women are being urged to get vaccinated.

As I pointed out, this warning is in stark contrast to some previous articles on flu, swine flu, and vaccination in the Daily Mail.

While I am slightly surprised to see that Prof John Oxford has apparently focussed his ire on individuals who post on twitter rather than the mainstream media, I am not at all surprised to see the Metro jump on this comment and base an article on it.

In this article, the Metro reports Prof Oxford as saying that:

[People] should listen to expert advice rather than ‘utter nonsense’ circulated by unqualified sources

While individual twitterers may well be guilty of circulating “utter nonsense” about vaccination, news organisations such as the Daily Mail certainly are.

I feel that organisations that have a large audience should bear more responsibility for the dissemination of nonsense than obscure individuals. The Metro clearly disagree.

While a general unwillingness among the media to criticise their fellow editors and reporters may perhaps account for the lack of reflection on the media’s role in vaccine scare stories, it’s also worth noting that in this instance the Metro is avoiding criticism of a sister paper. Associated Newspapers publish the Metro and Mail titles.

It is perhaps also worth pointing out that the Metro themselves have hardly been reticent about publishing odd stories about vaccination: calling swine flu a false pandemic driven by Big Pharma, and headlining one article Britain taking gamble on swine flu vaccination. They were also rash enough to tell the country that parents were holding swine flu parties to expose kids.


  1. Martin said,

    The Metro?! Next you’ll be onto the Sunday Sport!

    Twitter as a mechanism for passing gossip around might (might…) be a mechanism for distributing skepticism about jabs; rather than getting the occasional bit via word of mouth, you can now get waves of friends – not at all high profile people – discussing what problems there appeared to be with vaccinations. Gossip and rumour can go a long long way.

    See also forums…

    Of course *Professor* Oxford would say that we all ought to trust the experts. That means we should trust him. But on what basis, eh? eh? My mate read about it and he’s my friend, so he’s trustworthy, etc, etc.

  2. Martin said,


    I’ve got a dodgy over-simplified simulator for building knowledge/viewpoints in distributed systems, it might be interesting to see how a newspaper-ish (1 opinion -> lots readers, a few times a week) distribution of vaccine ‘skepticism’ compares to gossip (n people -> n x a few listeners but with much much faster update cycles).

    Can then vary for update cycle frequency such as twitter, facebook, forums, email, word of mouth…

  3. Dorothy Bishop said,

    I just typed ‘flu vaccination’ into Twitter search. Loads of tweets about how people need to get vaccinated, not a single one against. Might have been different perhaps months ago, but I doubt Prof Oxford is going on an evidence base here. There are only 3 John Oxford’s on Twitter and none of them look like him.

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