Anti-vaccination is one of the most significant health controversies of our time.
As a mother of two young girls under 4, I’m served vaccine propaganda everywhere I turn. Whether they’re speaking out on Facebook, in online magazines, newspapers or on television, the voices arguing for and against vaccination are virtually inescapable.
But when pro-vaxxers hold people like Jenny McCarthy, naturopaths and Andrew Wakefield responsible for the Western world’s recent rise in both anti-vaccination sentiment and vaccine-preventable diseases, aren’t they forgetting some people?
Anti-vaccination and the role of the content creator
Why is pro-vaccination content given so much attention in the media and on parenting websites?
If you’re thinking, “That’s obvious – more and more people aren’t vaccinating their children and we all want to stop this trend!” then let me give you something else to think about.
By bringing the issue of anti-vaccination into the mainstream and reporting on it often, writers are drawing attention to the fact that there are “sides”.
By allowing for debate and discussion to occur in article comments and on social media, publishers are providing yet another forum for pro-vaxxers and anti-vaxxers to go head to head.
And a lot of writers who write articles supporting vaccination while denouncing anti-vaccination are inadvertently telling mothers that they do have a choice.
It’s not a debate – at least not scientifically. The science is clear: vaccines work.
If a piece of writing is overly emotional, unconvincing, aggressive, clichéd, juvenile, or hot-headed – then it’s actually not at all helping to convince mothers to vaccinate their children. The writing may in fact have the opposite effect.
The force behind the decision to write about anti-vaccination
An editor’s decision to publish a piece of content about anti-vaccination is likely driven by the key criteria that defines newsworthy content.
Anti-vaccination is such a hot topic because it ticks all the boxes. It has mainstream appeal, it’s timely, it’s controversial. There are celebrities involved. It is in the public interest. There are life or death consequences.
That’s why we keep seeing pieces about vaccination splashed all over the internet: it’s always newsworthy.
And maybe some editors think that, by taking a stance against the anti-vaccination movement, they’re doing some social good.
But are they?
Are their pro-vaccination pieces unintentionally giving anti-vaccination a voice by acknowledging the movement? Or by enabling anti-vaxxers to have a say in comments and social shares?
Is “Here’s is what we think – now have your say in our comments” really a socially responsible approach?
Because an impressionable reader who takes the time to read the anti-vaccination comments on a pro-vax piece could be convinced not to vaccinate.
The buck doesn’t stop at the end of the article, in other words.
So if editors want to take a stance against anti-vaccination, should they take a radical one?
Should they stop publishing articles about vaccination altogether?
That way, they’re playing no part in allowing misinformed arguments to continue on their websites.
“But people want to know about vaccination!” I hear you cry. “And if there’s no content about vaccinations on the internet, where will everyone get their information from?”
Well, here’s a crazy thought: Doctors. They’re the only people who are really qualified to be providing advice about vaccinations in the first place.
“Good luck with that,” I hear you mumble. And you’re right.
Because, as we know, editors love pieces that get tons of views, likes, shares and comments. Aside from the financial rewards, a high level of interaction is a measure of both the popularity and success of a piece. It also drives content strategy, fuelling the decision to create more of the same type of content.
So unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that editors will stop publishing content about anti-vaccination.
And anyway, if we all stop producing pro-vaccination content, won’t the internet be taken over by anti-vax propaganda?
Possibly. But readers need to find it first.
Right now, the anti-vax movement is thrust in our faces because it’s indirectly featuring in the mainstream media all the time.
But if you stop giving it a voice, it becomes a lot harder to find. Maybe one day it even goes away.
Where to now?
If you’re someone who publishes or writes about health and medicine for a living, consider this:
- Avoid writing and publishing pieces that give the anti-vaccination movement a voice – if you don’t, you’re giving the anti-vax movement attention, and you’re providing opportunities for anti-vaxxers to comment. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, you’re highlighting the fact there are “for” and “against” camps.
- If you really must write about vaccination, stop calling it a “debate” – a debate implies there are two worthy sides. There aren’t. As Jane McCredie writes in her fantastic piece on media balance, we’re not obliged to give anti-vaxxers a voice for the sake of balance – just like we’re not obliged to give the Flat Earth Society a voice.
- Avoid using emotion to convince readers – while emotion drives decision making, when you use too much emotion in your writing your content can have the opposite effect: Readers switch off because you’re too emotionally invested. So don’t insult the anti-vaxxers by saying they’re stupid and ignorant. Don’t even talk about them. Don’t acknowledge them.
- Don’t focus on mythbusting – as it can backfire.
And if you’re an informed reader:
- Avoid reading magazines that devote time and energy to covering this issue – your clicks, impressions and comments only tell editors to produce more of these articles.
- Try to get your vaccine-related information from your doctor and quality health organisations – be responsible and be careful when it comes to the health of your children. Trust the people who have spent years dedicating their lives to the science supporting the decisions that you will be making about your family’s health.
The repercussions of the media’s obsession with vaccination are clear. We’re now witnessing
We’re now witnessing a resurfacing of diseases that nobody should be getting anymore – and it’s unfortunately only the beginning. But if writers, editors and publishers change tact, it doesn’t have to be.
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