Social BI to understand the debate on vaccines on the Web and social media: unraveling the anti-, free, and pro-vax communities in Italy

  • Matteo Francia
  • Enrico GallinucciEmail author
  • Matteo Golfarelli
Original Article


The debate on vaccines in Italy has greatly intensified in recent years. The promulgation of a law that makes a set of ten vaccines obligatory has pushed this formerly niche topic to a mainstream level. The law itself is an answer to the progressive erosion of the vaccine coverage. The debate has become a political topic with three main positions: supporters of the importance of vaccines, opponents who claim that vaccines are harmful to health, and the new position of those contesting only the mandatoriness of vaccinations. In this paper, we build on a Social Business Intelligence architecture to propose an in-depth analysis of the emerging social debate. Our analysis spans over more than three years, covering all the Web and social media. We adopt several techniques, including community detection and text analytics, to understand the evolution of the debate, the discussed topics, and the structure and peculiarities of the main social communities. The study reveals that the communities are well characterized, especially from a political perspective, and provides useful insights to official health organizations to improve their communication strategies.


Social Business Intelligence Vaccines Community detection Social networks 



  1. Al Zayer M, Gunes MH (2018) Exploring visual impairment awareness campaigns on twitter. Soc Netw Anal Min 8(1):40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bakshy E, Hofman JM, Mason WA, Watts DJ (2011) Everyone’s an influencer: quantifying influence on twitter. In: Proceedings of the fourth ACM international conference on Web search and data mining. ACM, pp 65–74Google Scholar
  3. Bello-Orgaz G, Hernandez-Castro J, Camacho D (2017) Detecting discussion communities on vaccination in twitter. Future Gener Comput Syst 66:125–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Betsch C, Brewer NT, Brocard P, Davies P, Gaissmaier W, Haase N, Leask J, Renkewitz F, Renner B, Reyna VF et al (2012) Opportunities and challenges of web 2.0 for vaccination decisions. Vaccine 30(25):3727–3733CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biasio LR, Corsello G, Costantino C, Fara GM, Giammanco G, Signorelli C, Vecchio D, Vitale F (2016) Communication about vaccination: a shared responsibility. Hum Vaccines Immunother 12(11):2984–2987CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blei DM, Ng AY, Jordan MI (2003) Latent dirichlet allocation. J Mach Learn Res 3(Jan):993–1022zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  7. Blondel VD, Guillaume JL, Lambiotte R, Lefebvre E (2008) Fast unfolding of communities in large networks. J Stat Mech Theory Exp 2008(10):P10008zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bonhoeffer J, Heininger U (2007) Adverse events following immunization: perception and evidence. Curr Opin Infect Dis 20(3):237–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chen RT (1999) Vaccine risks: real, perceived and unknown. Vaccine 17:S41–S46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chung CK, Pennebaker JW (2008) Revealing dimensions of thinking in open-ended self-descriptions: an automated meaning extraction method for natural language. J Res Personal 42(1):96–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Church KW, Hanks P (1990) Word association norms, mutual information, and lexicography. Comput Linguist 16(1):22–29Google Scholar
  12. Ciampaglia GL (2018) Fighting fake news: a role for computational social science in the fight against digital misinformation. J Comput Soc Sci 1(1):147–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clauset A, Newman ME, Moore C (2004) Finding community structure in very large networks. Phys Rev E 70(6):066111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Conover M, Ratkiewicz J, Francisco MR, Gonçalves B, Menczer F, Flammini A (2011) Political polarization on twitter. Icwsm 133:89–96Google Scholar
  15. Covolo L, Ceretti E, Passeri C, Boletti M, Gelatti U (2017) What arguments on vaccinations run through youtube videos in italy? A content analysis. Hum Vacc Immunother 13(7):1693–1699CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. D’Ancona F, D’Amario C, Maraglino F, Rezza G, Ricciardi W, Iannazzo S (2018) Introduction of new and reinforcement of existing compulsory vaccinations in Italy: first evaluation of the impact on vaccination coverage in 2017. Eurosurveillance 23(22):1800238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. D’Andrea E, Ducange P, Marcelloni F (2017) Monitoring negative opinion about vaccines from tweets analysis. In: 2017 third international conference on research in computational intelligence and communication networks (ICRCICN). IEEE, pp 186–191Google Scholar
  18. Deza E, Deza M (2006) Dictionary of distances. North-Holland, AmsterdamzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  19. Donzelli A, Demicheli V (2018) Varicella vaccination: scientific reasons for a different strategic approach. Epidemiol Prev 42(1):65–70Google Scholar
  20. Dunn AG, Leask J, Zhou X, Mandl KD, Coiera E (2015) Associations between exposure to and expression of negative opinions about human papillomavirus vaccines on social media: an observational study. J Med Internet Res 17(6):e144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Faasse K, Chatman CJ, Martin LR (2016) A comparison of language use in pro-and anti-vaccination comments in response to a high profile facebook post. Vaccine 34(47):5808–5814CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Francia M, Golfarelli M, Rizzi S (2014) A methodology for social bi. In: Proceedings of the 18th international database engineering & applications symposium. ACM, pp 207–216Google Scholar
  23. Francia M, Gallinucci E, Golfarelli M, Rizzi S (2016) Social business intelligence in action. In: International conference on advanced information systems engineering. Springer, pp 33–48Google Scholar
  24. Furini M, Menegoni G (2018) Public health and social media: language analysis of vaccine conversations. In: 2018 international workshop on social sensing (SocialSens). IEEE, pp 50–55Google Scholar
  25. Gallinucci E, Golfarelli M, Rizzi S (2015) Advanced topic modeling for social business intelligence. Inf Syst 53:87–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ghiassi M, Skinner J, Zimbra D (2013) Twitter brand sentiment analysis: a hybrid system using n-gram analysis and dynamic artificial neural network. Expert Syst Appl 40(16):6266–6282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Giambi C, Fabiani M, D’Ancona F, Ferrara L, Fiacchini D, Gallo T, Martinelli D, Pascucci MG, Prato R, Filia A et al (2018) Parental vaccine hesitancy in Italy-results from a national survey. Vaccine 36(6):779–787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Glanz JM, Wagner NM, Narwaney KJ, Kraus CR, Shoup JA, Xu S, O’Leary ST, Omer SB, Gleason KS, Daley MF (2017) Web-based social media intervention to increase vaccine acceptance: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics 140(6):e20171117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Grassegger H, Krogerus M (2017) The data that turned the world upside down. Vice Motherboard. Accessed 4 Jan 2019
  30. Habernal I, Gurevych I (2017) Argumentation mining in user-generated web discourse. Comput Linguist 43(1):125–179. MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Holmberg K, Thelwall M (2014) Disciplinary differences in twitter scholarly communication. Scientometrics 101(2):1027–1042CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jaccard P (1901) Étude comparative de la distribution florale dans une portion des alpes et des jura. Bull Soc Vaud Sci Nat 37:547–579Google Scholar
  33. Kadam M (2017) Understanding vaccination attitudes and detecting sentiment stimulus in online social media. PhD thesis, Illinois Institute of TechnologyGoogle Scholar
  34. Kang GJ, Ewing-Nelson SR, Mackey L, Schlitt JT, Marathe A, Abbas KM, Swarup S (2017) Semantic network analysis of vaccine sentiment in online social media. Vaccine 35(29):3621–3638CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Larson HJ, Smith DM, Paterson P, Cumming M, Eckersberger E, Freifeld CC, Ghinai I, Jarrett C, Paushter L, Brownstein JS et al (2013) Measuring vaccine confidence: analysis of data obtained by a media surveillance system used to analyse public concerns about vaccines. Lancet Infect Dis 13(7):606–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Larson HJ, de Figueiredo A, Xiahong Z, Schulz WS, Verger P, Johnston IG, Cook AR, Jones NS (2016) The state of vaccine confidence 2016: global insights through a 67-country survey. EBioMedicine 12:295–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lippi M, Torroni P (2016) Argumentation mining: state of the art and emerging trends. ACM Trans Internet Technol 16(2):10:1–10:25. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ministero della Salute (2017) Decreto vaccini, la sentenza della corte costituzionale considera legittimo l’obbligo dei vaccini nel contesto attuale. Accessed 04-June-2019
  39. Mitra T, Counts S, Pennebaker JW (2016) Understanding anti-vaccination attitudes in social media. In: ICWSM, pp 269–278Google Scholar
  40. Nigam K, McCallum AK, Thrun S, Mitchell T (2000) Text classification from labeled and unlabeled documents using EM. Mach Learn 39(2–3):103–134zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Petrarca L, Midulla F, Openshaw PJ (2018) Vaccination policies in europe: common goals, diverse approaches and public doubts. Eur J Immunol 48(1):10–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Radzikowski J, Stefanidis A, Jacobsen KH, Croitoru A, Crooks A, Delamater PL (2016) The measles vaccination narrative in twitter: a quantitative analysis. JMIR Public Health Surveill 2(1):e1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Reichardt J, Bornholdt S (2006) Statistical mechanics of community detection. Phys Rev E 74(1):016110MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rosvall M, Bergstrom CT (2008) Maps of random walks on complex networks reveal community structure. Proc Natl Acad Sci 105(4):1118–1123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Salathé M, Khandelwal S (2011) Assessing vaccination sentiments with online social media: implications for infectious disease dynamics and control. PLoS Comput Biol 7(10):e1002199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Salton G, McGill M (1984) Introduction to modern information retrieval. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New YorkzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  47. Signorelli C, Guerra R, Siliquini R, Ricciardi W (2017a) Italy’s response to vaccine hesitancy: an innovative and cost effective national immunization plan based on scientific evidence. Vaccine 35(33):4057–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Signorelli C, Odone A, Cella P, Iannazzo S, D’Ancona F, Guerra R (2017b) Infant immunization coverage in italy (2000–2015). Annali dell’Istituto superiore di sanita 53(3):231–237Google Scholar
  49. Signorelli C, Iannazzo S, Odone A (2018) The imperative of vaccination put into practice. Lancet Infect Dis 18(1):26–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Statista (2018a) Social network market share held by Facebook in Italy from January 2017 to August 2018.
  51. Statista (2018b) Social network market share held by Twitter in Italy from January 2017 to August 2018.
  52. Surian D, Nguyen DQ, Kennedy G, Johnson M, Coiera E, Dunn AG (2016) Characterizing twitter discussions about HPV vaccines using topic modeling and community detection. J Med Internet Res 18(8):e232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tausczik YR, Pennebaker JW (2010) The psychological meaning of words: LIWC and computerized text analysis methods. J Lang Soc Psychol 29(1):24–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Trottier D, Fuchs C (2014) Social media, politics and the state: protests, revolutions, riots, crime and policing in the age of facebook, twitter and youtube, vol 16. Routledge, AbingdonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wang Z, Li Z, Yuan G, Sun Y, Rui X, Xiang X (2018) Tracking the evolution of overlapping communities in dynamic social networks. Knowl Based Syst 157:81–97. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wasserman S, Faust K (1994) Social network analysis: methods and applications, vol 8. Cambridge University Press, CambridgezbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wikipedia (2019) Roberto burioni. Accessed 04 Jan 2019
  58. Wolfe RM, Sharp LK (2002) Anti-vaccinationists past and present. Br Med J: BMJ 325(7361):430CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. World Health Organization et al (2018) Europe observes a 4 fold increase in measles cases in 2017 compared to a previous year. World Health Organization 6Google Scholar
  60. Yom-Tov E, Fernandez-Luque L (2014) Information is in the eye of the beholder: seeking information on the MMR vaccine through an internet search engine. In: AMIA annual symposium proceedings, vol 2014. American Medical Informatics Association, p 1238Google Scholar
  61. Yuan X, Crooks AT (2018) Examining online vaccination discussion and communities in twitter. In: Proceedings of the 9th international conference on social media and society. ACM, pp 197–206Google Scholar
  62. Zipprich J, Winter K, Hacker J, Xia D, Watt J, Harriman K (2015) Measles outbreak-california, December 2014–February 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 64(6):153–154Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DISI – University of BolognaCesenaItaly

Personalised recommendations