AI analyzes tweets debating vaccination and climate change

Few topics divide opinions as much as COVID-19 control measures, including vaccinations. Myths, conspiracy theories, lies and misinformation are spread all across social media. But how bad is the situation really?

Scientists from the University of Waterloo and the University of Guelph used artificial intelligence (AI) to see how vaccination and climate change divides people.

Social media becomes a space for misinformation about vaccination and climate change.

Social media becomes a space for misinformation, conspiracy theories and fighting. Image credit: Alejandro Escamilla via Wikimedia

Digging up Information on Vaccinations

Scientists trained a machine-learning algorithm to analyze a massive number of tweets about climate change and vaccination. Twitter is one of the inflamed fighting playgrounds for people who have strong opinions about something and are generally not willing to change them even when presented with different kinds of data.

Scientists performed an AI- based analysis of roughly 87 million tweets written between 2007 and 2016. This is a huge amount of data, which allows seeing how people share their opinions and how they interact with each other when they disagree. Climate change and vaccination are two highly debated topics, but patterns noticed here likely apply to different controversial subjects as well.

Researchers found that while climate change sentiments between 2007 and 2016 were quite uniform, vaccination sentiment was quite a different story. Mind you, this research analysed tweets that were written long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Chris Bauch, one of the authors of the study, said: “If we were to do the same study today with data from the past two years, the results might be wildly different. Vaccination is a much hotter topic right now and appears to be much more polarized given the ongoing pandemic.”

People seem to understand climate change more or less on the same level. Most people in this study  agreed that humans are the primary cause of climate change and that it requires action. Meanwhile 15 or 20 % of users expressed a clearly pro-vaccine sentiment, while around 70 % expressed no strong sentiment. It is worrying that people and communities supporting different stances regarding vaccination interact much less than in the case of climate change. This is a bit surprising, because scientists expected to see more similarities in vaccination and climate change, but these turn out to be discussed quite differently.

A lot of people become entrenched in their positions and do not want to see the other side. They do not think that there is a chance of them being wrong. Some choose to argue with the other side, which is equally fortified in their beliefs, others isolate themselves among people who have similar worldviews. These divisions from a societal perspective are extremely sad to see.


Source: University of Waterloo