BELIEVING THE INTERNET: USER COMMENTS ABOUT VACCINE SAFETY

Colin Doty

Abstract


There is a popular perception that because of the Internet, misinformation spreads faster and farther than ever, presumably because information can be created, shared and accessed so easily that anyone can make or find support for anything they wish to believe (Keen, 2006). Somewhat contradictorily, the abundance of information on the Internet might also make it easier than ever to verify information (Floridi, 1996), while at the same time leading to echo chambers where Internet users encounter only information that confirms their beliefs (Sunstein, 2007).

Yet regardless of how much misinformation is created or how quickly it spreads, it does not misinform unless someone believes it. Indeed, in light of concerns about the social construction of knowledge, what constitutes misinformation is often determined by who believes it (Stahl, 2006). This suggests that the actual concern about misinformation in the digital age is a concern about how individual Internet users decide what to believe.

To explore this, this study investigates debates on the Internet about vaccine safety. The focus of the study has not been to determine the correctness or incorrectness of any particular belief, but rather to understand what people believe about vaccine safety, how and why they believe it, and the relationship between the Internet and those beliefs.


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