Africa: Vaccine Distrust Pervades Social Media Posts in Six African Nations

14 October 2021

Cape Town — A new analysis of online content in six African nations referring to Covid-19 vaccines has revealed that posts reflecting distrust of, or hesitancy over, vaccinations are dominating social media.

The analysis was carried out by a South African research group dedicated to combating fake news and misinformation, and advocating healthy online dialogue, on the internet.

While content promoted by South African social media users dominated the group's survey, it also included posts by users in Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria and Tanzania.

The Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC) at the University of Cape Town surveyed vaccine sentiment on social media during the period mid-June to mid-August.

The centre filtered its results to determine the geographical origin of the posts, and analysed groups of hashtags used to spread both pro- and anti-vaccine content on social media platforms.

Analysing 4,648 mentions of vaccines, the centre found that:

  • More than one-third (35.3 percent) reflected vaccine hesitancy;
  • Just under a quarter (21.4 percent) promoted fringe conspiracy theories; and
  • A fifth (20.3 percent) reflected views sceptical of vaccines.

Against a total of three-quarters of mentions revealing distrust of vaccines, 10.3 percent were neutral on the issue, only 8 percent advocated vaccines and only 4.8 percent were enthusiastic about vaccines.

The centre concluded that "the vaccine conversation is a polarised and combative space. Misinformation and disinformation is rife, driven mainly by minority clusters that have an overt distrust of institutions, government, elites and experts".

It said that during the survey period, about four in five posts were from users who said they were in South Africa, but the number of those engaged in posting there, in Tanzania, and in Senegal, was declining. In contrast, the number of authors of posts was trending upwards in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria.

Other conclusions:

  •  "The use of anti-vaccination hashtags has trended downward in Kenya and Nigeria – but upward in Ghana."
  •  "Accounts with less than 1,000 followers authored about two-thirds of the posts containing anti-vaccination hashtags. These small accounts were responsible for 26 percent more volume in the anti-vaccine conversation than they were in the total vaccine conversation."
  • "Accounts with more than 10,000 followers contributed only six percent of the anti-vaccine conversation, which suggests that the anti-vax posts are driven mainly by users with small followings."
  •  "The pro-vaccine narrative is driven mainly by scientists, influencers, journalists, business, government and its institutions."

The centre hopes that the detail of its analysis will help institutions combatting vaccine resistance.

"The analysis shows worrying distrust of vaccines among some social media users," said Neeran Naidoo, the centre's head of communications. "But it can help us and other organisations pin-point ways of helping to push back against misleading messaging and conspiracy theories and encourage more people to take the vaccine."

Read the full CABC report

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