May 23, 2022

“Novak Djokovic, Twitter and antivax”

Chronic. After a media saga of more than ten days, Novak Djokovic was expelled from Australia on Sunday January 16. Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced it himself on Twitter : this decision was taken to preserve public order and not to threaten the success of the vaccination campaign against Covid-19 in the country.

This threat may seem trivial when nearly 92% of Australians are now vaccinated. But the research clearly shows that the positions of celebrities on public health issues have a great influence, often much more important than those of scientists (“ Designing Effective Celebrity Public Health Messaging : Results from a Nationwide Twitter Experiment in Indonesia », Vivi Alatas, Arun G. Chandrasekhar, Markus Mobius, Benjamin A. Olken et Cindy Paladines, 2020).

Read also Are “classic” antivax the same as those that refuse the Covid-19 vaccine?

The authors conducted a Twitter experiment in Indonesia as part of a childhood immunization campaign in 2015-2016. Thirty-seven celebrities (television or music stars, actors and actresses, political figures or prominent intellectuals), with an average of 260,000 followers each on Twitter – more than 11 million people in total –, as well as more than 1,000 “ordinary” individuals with Twitter accounts took part in this experiment. This consisted of observing the behavior of users of the social network and comparing the effect of the same message on vaccination when it comes from a celebrity rather than an ordinary individual. The authors also studied the difference between a celebrity simply retweeting a message and being the author.

Facts and Beliefs

The same tweet is 72% more likely to be retweeted when it comes from a celebrity than an ordinary person. The effect is much stronger when the celebrity is the author of the tweet, rather than when they retweet. Celebrity posts don’t just affect behavior on social media. The survey found that celebrity followers who tweeted about vaccinations were more knowledgeable about the vaccine than celebrity followers who did not tweet. Celebrity tweets were also associated with higher vaccination rates among followers’ relatives. In addition, these tweets were particularly effective in combating misinformation, such as the myth that the vaccine would not be halal.

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