Protestors against California’s the mandatory vaccination bill SB277, 2015.
Image: AP

A new study out of the UK by the Royal Society for Public Health has found that fully half of parents with young children are being exposed to anti-vax misinformation on social media. Great! That’s great.

The Guardian covered the report, which focused on the United Kingdom but is obviously still concerning here in the States where, for instance, public health officials in the Portland, Oregon area are extremely concerned about an escalating measles outbreak in an area with notoriously high rates of kids whose parents decline to vaccinate. The report isn’t just talking about poorly sourced links posted by a friend of a friend you met once; they’re talking about coordinated efforts, too:

“Anti-vaxx” groups target the parents of new babies via social media, posting stories claiming babies have died or been harmed by vaccination. A US group called Stop Mandatory Vaccination, run by Larry Cook, was censured by the UK’s advertising watchdog in November over a paid-for Facebook post, after a complaint by the mother of a young baby in the UK.

“Parents, not only can any vaccine given at any age kill your child, but if this unthinkable tragedy does occur, doctors will dismiss it as ‘sudden infant death syndrome’ (Sids),” ran the post, which showed a picture of a baby with his eyes closed with his apparent name and date of birth – and death. It urged readers to join the Facebook group.

“We need to counteract health misinformation online and via social media,” said RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer, adding that, “We call on the social media giants and the platforms to look at what they could do around this because it is a breeding ground for misleading information and negative messaging.”

Support for vaccines remains strong, but they’re concerned about the long-term, cumulative effects:

Only one in 10 parents said they believed what they saw on social media. The report said: “This substantial exposure to negative vaccination messages may influence attitudes to vaccinations over time: repetition of messages is often mistaken for accuracy, a phenomenon known as the illusory truth effect.”

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Here is where I encourage parents of very young children to, whenever possible, stay off social media, anyway. Before you know it you are 12 threads deep on a breastfeeding forum with people talking about off-label drugs that can increase your milk supply. Stick to your group text and your Netflix! Save yourself!