In March 2013, a type 1 wild Polio virus (WPV1) was found during routine environmental surveillance of the sewage system in a southern town in IsraelFootnote 1 . Epidemiological analysis showed that children under 9 years of age were the carriers and the main distributers of the virus .
Children in Israel are regularly vaccinated with Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine (IPV) which protects them from developing Poliomyelitis but does not prevent them from becoming transmitters and spreading the disease if infected with the virus, nor from spreading the virus . Older citizens of Israel received both the IPV and the live (attenuated) Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV), which were routinely given to all infants between 1990Footnote 2 and 2005 . The WHO declared Israel Polio-free on June 21, 2002 . The OPV was removed from routine vaccination and replaced by IPV, due to its better safety profile.Footnote 3
Following the isolation of WPV1 from sewage samples in March 2013, on August 5, 2013 the Ministry of Health launched a vaccination campaign called “Two drops” targeted at children in southern Israel . However, two weeks later, when analysis showed that the Polio virus had circulated more widely, the campaign was extended to the entire country . OPV was only administered to children who had already been vaccinated with IPV. This additional vaccination was in fact meant to protect society more than the children themselves. In other words, OPV was added to prevent children from becoming carriers of WPV1 and from spreading the virus, or to promote herd immunity. Even though the scientific consensus which led to the recommendation to add OPV to young children’s vaccination routine was very solid [24, 26], this guideline sparked intense public debates and discussions, which were widely reviewed in the traditional as well as electronic mass media and in the social mediaFootnote 4 including platforms such as Facebook, various online forums, and blogs.
By November 2013, Israel’s sewage samples all came back negative for wild Polio virus . By January 2014, Israel’s official national campaign was over . Overall, 945,000 children constituting 78.75 % of the target population were vaccinated with the OPV during the 2013 campaign . By the end of the campaign, the Israeli Ministry of Health announced that the OPV would once again become the routine vaccination for children in Israel.Footnote 5 Since the campaign was initiated, and to this day, there has not been a single case of Polio virus . In April 2015, Israel was officially once again Polio-free, as declared by the World Health Organization.Footnote 6
Scientific information is playing a growing role in the social media . Numerous debate and discussion groups have emerged to address scientific topics [1, 13]. The reliance on social media is one of the newer uses of online resources more generally; as of 2014 the Internet surpassed television as Americans’ primary source of information about science and technology. Social media are also a rapidly expanding feature of online life: today, 65 % of American adults use social media . Facebook is the most popular and frequently used social media platform among American 13 to 17 year olds, with 71 % of all teens using the platform . Facebook had one billion daily active users on average in September 2015.Footnote 7 Of these users, 700 million are members of Facebook groups .
As a result of this emergent association between science communication and social media, scientific magazines such as ‘Science’ and ‘PNAS’ have recently issued calls to better understand how online environments affect the communication of science information to the public. A number of researchers have drawn attention to the paucity of systematic empirical explorations of the ways in which the new media in general and social media in particular have changed the science communication landscape [6, 7]. It has been shown, for example, that people use Facebook as an information source for socio-scientific issues . But how do people integrate online science resources into their decision- making and meaning- making processes?
In general, public participation in scientific issues, and public understanding of scientific information are essential to modern society. Public engagement with health-related information is even more so. In 2013, 59 % of all American adults searched for health information online and of these, 16 % looked for others who shared the same health concerns . In France, almost half of all Web users aged 15–30 used the Internet for health purposes . A recent paper exploring health information seeking in Europe showed that social media can act as a complementary source of information to traditional and online media . Individuals who showed an inclination to use social media in conjunction with other channels considered it more important to be well informed, were more motivated to find additional information, and were more sensitive to risks in general . In Israel, there are several online forums and social media outlets which support patients and people interested in health issues. One for example, is “Kamoni”, an online health forum where patients can find others with similar health problems and seek advice and consultation from experts. This forum is mainly oriented toward patients with chronic illnesses. In this paper, we show that in non-chronic situations as well, social media can act as a health information seeking and providing resource, in addition to a space for non-mediated debate, discussion, and support.
Internationally, social media have been found to play a profound role in health promotion [9, 37], where, unlike in Israel, other social media outlets, such as Twitter, are equally popular. For example, the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are comparable in terms of number of users (559,987 users for CDC official Facebook page vs. 645,121 followers for the CDC gov. Twitter account respectively).
In 2012, the journal ‘Vaccine’ devoted a special issue to the role of internet use in making vaccination decisions.Footnote 8 The articles in that issue all stressed the potential of the social media to serve as an essential agent in influencing and shaping scientific and medical decisions .
In the Israeli context, the Israeli media 2013 report  indicated that the social media platform Facebook is the most widely used social media site in Israel, and spans users with diverse socio-economic backgrounds. In Israel, there are about 4 million Facebook users, 2.4 of whom check their Facebook account on a daily basis. Of these, 52 % are females. Many users are in the 18–24 age range (28 %), followed by the 25–34 (27 %), 35–44 (15 %), 13–17 (13 %), 45–54 (9 %), and 55 and over (about 9 %) age brackets .
Only a few scholarly papers have provided a thorough description of the contemporary social media landscape in Israel in the context of health and science communication [15, 20, 38]. However, documentation shows that 56 % of all online users in Israel read about a medical issue online before going to the doctor . This article analyzes the role played by social media as a public platform in vaccination-related debates and discussions. We present data collected from the Israeli mainstream media and Facebook focusing on a specific content-driven group called “Parents talk about Polio vaccination”, the only diversified Facebook Polio-related group. The exploration of the texts submitted and shared by this particular group provides a unique opportunity to analyze authentic exchanges while the debates and discussions were ongoing. From this point on, when we use the term authentic, we mean that an authentic public voice is unmediated by the media or other political actors.