Polarization and trust in the evolution of vaccine discourse on Twitter during COVID-19

Ignacio Ojea Quintana*, Ritsaart Reimann, Marc Cheong, Mark Alfano, Colin Klein

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Trust in vaccination is eroding, and attitudes about vaccination have become more polarized. This is an observational study of Twitter analyzing the impact that COVID-19 had on vaccine discourse. We identify the actors, the language they use, how their language changed, and what can explain this change. First, we find that authors cluster into several large, interpretable groups, and that the discourse was greatly affected by American partisan politics. Over the course of our study, both Republicans and Democrats entered the vaccine conversation in large numbers, forming coalitions with Antivaxxers and public health organizations, respectively. After the pandemic was officially declared, the interactions between these groups increased. Second, we show that the moral and non-moral language used by the various communities converged in interesting and informative ways. Finally, vector autoregression analysis indicates that differential responses to public health measures are likely part of what drove this convergence. Taken together, our results suggest that polarization around vaccination discourse in the context of COVID-19 was ultimately driven by a trust-first dynamic of political engagement.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0277292
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number12 December
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


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