The Battle Between Expertise and Misinformation to Influence Public Opinion: A Focus on the Anti-Vaccination Movement
Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Open Access
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
Ashleigh Everhardt Queen
How do experts and anti-vaccination advocates effectively influence public opinion? This study examines the role of experts and non-experts in influencing public opinion. It uses the anti-vaccination movement as a case study to observe the antagonism between expert opinion and misinformation and how they are perceived by and influence the public. In particular, I examine the relationships between social media, misinformation, and expert opinion and how these relationships impact individuals to form their opinions. Additionally, I measure individual components such as science education background, ideology, and social media use to determine the effects of personal factors on opinion formation. I expand upon previous research that explored the mechanisms of anti-vaccination advocates to influence public opinion through social media campaigns and misinformation dissemination. Instead of focusing on the mechanisms, I study the effect of the tactics used by anti-vaccination groups in the population as a whole and within different subsets of the population. I conducted two studies consisting of two survey experiments to test my hypotheses. The data suggests expert information is effective to varying degrees at promoting and reinforcing pro-vaccine beliefs when presented both alone and alongside misinformation. The findings also show anti-vaccination methods are effective at inducing negative vaccine beliefs in individuals. The most important results showed that personal factors were the strongest predictors of positive or negative vaccine attitudes. This research is important because misinformation not only poses a risk to intellectual integrity, but anti-vaccination misinformation poses a risk to public health.
Bongiorno, Alexandra, "The Battle Between Expertise and Misinformation to Influence Public Opinion: A Focus on the Anti-Vaccination Movement" (2021). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 1613.
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