Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Combating fake news: Social media engagement with pro-vaccine messages

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Saurabh BhattacharyaORCiD, Professor Natalia Yannopoulou



This is the final published version of a conference proceedings (inc. abstract) that has been published in its final definitive form by Newcastle University , 2021.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


During the COVID-19 crisis, media and researchers have reported that anti-vax messages on social media resulted in more fake news as viewers engaged more in such messages than genuine vaccine messages (Germani and Andorno, 2021). Consequently, fake news became more viral than real vaccine news, reducing the efficacy of healthcare organizations and policymakers to reach their goal of achieving herd immunity. Given COVID-19 vaccine’ efficacy and health-related concerns, it has become eminent for healthcare organizations to address vaccine information effectively. Extant research has focused on message framing of vaccines. However, their prime focus has been on willingness to take the vaccine and not the intention of social media users to engage in vaccine-related communication (see Penta and Băban, 2018 for a meta-analysis). Narrative information about (alleged) vaccine adverse effects is widely spread on the Internet by echo chambers' creation (Bruns, 2019). We propose that health organizations combat the impact of such narrative information by leveraging vaccine efficacy-related statistical information that would be more effective in engaging social media users, where engagement implies sharing, liking, and commenting on the message (Zebregs et al., 2015). The effectiveness of statistical information would be enhanced by using pictorial representations of information. Extant research on the effects of images in public health has primarily focused on traditional media, such as brochures, advertisements, or magazines (Young et al., 2016). We explore the influence of images on social media engagement, especially images about COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and health-related figures and graphics. We also explore how the national cultural background of individuals influences their engagement with gain-framed statistical information versus loss-framed statistical information (Hofstede et al., 1990). We propose that individuals from risk-conservative societies such as India are more engaged by loss-framed COVID-19 vaccine information than gain-framed information. For example, the percentage of non-vaccinated individuals who died because of COVID-19 even after hospitalization. In contrast, members of a risk-aggressive society such as the UK are more likely to be engaged with gain-framed statistical information on the COVID-19 vaccine. For example, the percentage of vaccinated individuals who recovered from COVID-19 without the need for hospitalization. Support for the study hypotheses is likely to have significant managerial implications. Studies have suggested that fake news on social media leverage more on narrative text. This may happen as statistics regarding vaccines are mainly in favor of the positive effect of vaccine than negative effects (CDC, 2021). Given that statistical figures description resulted in more engagement of users on social media, it is likely that if health organizations and public policymakers focus on promoting statistical support for the positive effect of the vaccine, such news may spread much more than fake news, resulting in the successful implementation of pro-vaccination efforts. Similarly, understanding risk perceptions is also critical for those intending to communicate about health behaviors and health policies. The cross-cultural theory of nationality background renders an effective conception of risk that may be useful for health organizations and public policymakers to understand message effects on engagement in social media and to curb fake news by making genuine news more viral through more sharing of such news. Since health policy decisions are entangled with cultural stances, incorporating such stances may influence the effectiveness of curbing anti-vax sentiments among individuals. This study proposes a series of between-subject experimental designs with participants from the UK and India to test the study hypotheses.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Agnihotri A, Bhattacharya S, Yannopoulou N

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: 5th International Conference of Marketing, Strategy & Policy

Year of Conference: 2021

Pages: 29

Print publication date: 07/09/2021

Online publication date: 07/09/2021

Acceptance date: 31/08/2021

Date deposited: 14/09/2021

Publisher: Newcastle University