Social media is used by 72% of Americans according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. 73 percent of U.S. adults use the Internet for health-related information, according to another survey.
Furthermore, according to research, fake news is more likely to be shared than verified news, particularly on social media. 86.4% of claims circulated on social networks were either false (27.3%) or misleading (59.1%), with advertisements for the latter generally being more shared.
Approximately One In Three Cancer Articles Posted On Social Media Are Misleading
Misinformation on health can undermine evidence-based medicine and negatively affect relationships between patients and doctors. There is also an increased death risk associated with it. Researchers believe that social media might affect a cancer patient’s decision to receive treatment. It is unclear what proportion of information about cancer treatments that can be found on social media is of good quality.
A cross-country collaborative effort led by scientists from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City examined how accurate cancer treatment information can be found on social media and if it is harmful. One-third of all the most popular cancer articles on social media contain misinformation, most of it was harmful.
As the study’s lead author and assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute, Skylar Johnson told Medical News Today that she was unsure of what to expect. The data confirmed my concerns that many article links shared on social media are misleading and potentially harmful. It was surprising to find that this type of information had a greater likelihood of receiving an increase in online engagement as compared to safe and factual information.
Misinformation that is spread in multiple ways, including on social media, through patients, and through providers, needs to be addressed. The information gathered in this survey is expected to advance future health policy surrounding social media and the need to promote accurate information, the study’s leader added. Journal of the National Cancer Institute has published the researchers’ study.
Analysis of data gathered from web scraping
Researchers used BuzzSumo, a software for scraping websites, to gather the 50 most frequently cited English language articles on the four most common types of cancer: prostate, breast, lung, and colorectal.
During January 2018 and December 2019, they found a staggering number of blog posts and articles shared on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. The software collected the following 200 pieces:
- There were 75 articles published by traditional media
- A total of 83 came from non-traditional digital sources
- Two of the sources were personal blogs
- A total of six were crowd-funded
- Journal articles accounted for 34 of the data
They compiled a panel consisting of two members from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network to rate the articles and determine if they contained misinformation or harmful information. As well as their ratings, panelists provided explanations of why they gave those ratings.
The researchers conducted a statistical analysis of the data and discovered that 32.5% of the articles contained inaccurate information. The majority of these came from misleading titles, misplaced evidence, and unproven treatments.
In addition, they found that 30.5% of articles provided harmful information. People are urged to delay or disregard seeking medical attention for curable conditions, pay for expensive therapies, treat themselves with potentially toxic substances, or try alternative therapies that may be harmful.
In addition, scientists found that unsafe articles received a median of 2,300 shares, while articles with harmless information got 1,500. Pinterest engagements had no connections to misinformation or harm, whereas Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter engagements did.
Pre-existing beliefs and no fact-checking
Misinformation, and why individuals spread it more, was not examined in the study. Some studies suggest, however, that misinformation is more often shared because people do not verify information, rather than because they wish to spread falsehoods. Some studies suggest misinformation is spread because it is aligned with deeply held incorrect beliefs.
As a result of the researchers’ investigation, patient-specific tools and behavioral interventions might be developed that can help counter cancer misinformation online. The authors wrote, however, that the survey was limited by the fact that they examined only English-language articles. BuzzSumo’s data lacks important qualitative information, and we can’t fully match it with social media data.
Researchers should conduct further research to discover which patients receive cancer misinformation, the impact of this misinformation on scientific belief, trust, and decision-making, and how physician-patient communication can be used to correct misinformation. As part of the work, a database will be built to identify the features of articles associated with misinformation.