Emotional Feedback and the Viral Spread of Social Media Messages About Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Abstract

Objective

To determine whether exchanges of emotional language between health advocacy organizations and social media users predict the spread of posts about autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Methods

I created a Facebook application that tracked views of ASD advocacy organizations' posts between July 19, 2011, and December 18, 2012. I evaluated the association between exchanges of emotional language and viral views of posts, controlling for additional characteristics of posts, the organizations that produced them, the social media users who viewed them, and the broader social environment.

Results

Exchanges of emotional language between advocacy organizations and social media users are strongly associated with viral views of posts.

Conclusions

Social media outreach may be more successful if organizations invite emotional dialogue instead of simply conveying information about ASDs. Yet exchanges of angry language may contribute to the viral spread of misinformation, such as the rumor that vaccines cause ASDs.

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