A group of “anti-vaxxers” are leveraging the power of social media to fight a new bill in California that would ban the belief exemption for vaccines.

But a small group of vocal anti-vaxxers is fighting hard to keep it from passing. This group, which leverages the power of social media, has launched a full-scale attack on the bill as it travels through the legislature. Each day, leaders craft tweets and instruct followers to disseminate them. Several senators who voted in favor of the California legislation have found themselves receiving extensive attention from the group — one, Senator Hannah Beth Jackson, has been @-mentioned (often unfavorably) in a particular Twitter hashtag more than 2,000 times since casting her vote in favor of the legislation.

This anti-vax activity might seem like low-stakes, juvenile propaganda. But social networking has the potential to significantly impact public perception of events—and the power to influence opinions increasingly lies with those who can most widely and effectively disseminate a message. One small, vocal group can have a disproportionate impact on public sentiment and legislation. Welcome to “Anti-Vax Twitter.”

Since anti-vax activists lose on the science and are small in number, they have increasingly begun to rely on social media to inflate their presence. Twitter hashtags are particularly powerful because they transcend organized groups and the standard friend or follower relationships. More than any other social network, Twitter helps citizens to connect and organize in the real world even if they aren’t part of the same physical communities—anyone can participate in a conversation simply by following and using a hashtag.

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