The substantial amount of inaccurate or false health information circulating online, coupled with low levels of public trust in social and scientific institutions, poses a significant challenge for health communication. In response to these trends and developments, HCIRB has been leading several initiatives to better understand and address online misinformation and its consequences for health. The ultimate goal of these initiatives is to support health practitioners and clinical care providers in effectively responding to health misinformation and mitigating its negative impact.
These initiatives will advance scientific knowledge regarding several key research questions, including:
- What is the prevalence of cancer-related misinformation on social media platforms?
- What are the real-world consequences of exposure to health misinformation on social media?
- Which populations are most vulnerable to online misinformation? What demographic and psychosocial factors predict misinformation endorsement and sharing?
- How do individuals process and assess information quality and source credibility when interacting with social media content? What factors are most salient in determining information trustworthiness?
- What are the most effective ways to address misinformation on various social media platforms?
Special issue about health misinformation on social media
The NCI partnered with the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) to publish a special issue highlighting cutting-edge research that addresses critical issues surrounding health misinformation on social media. Published on October 1 2020, the special issue showcases diverse approaches to a rapidly expanding research area and addresses topics such as vaccine misinformation, unproven cancer treatments, and rumors about emerging infectious diseases. The issue also highlights the role of healthcare providers in addressing health misinformation and important ethical considerations for health promotion efforts on social media.
Response to misinformation eye-tracking study
Much of what is currently known about the public’s engagement with health information on social media is based on self-report; very few studies have utilized more objective measurement tools, such as eye tracking, to assess engagement with this type of information. In order to address this gap, HCIRB scientists conducted a mixed-methods study that used eye tracking, self-report measures, and interviews to examine how individuals interact with cancer-related health information (and misinformation) on social media platforms. Findings from this study could inform strategies for presenting evidence-based health information to the public via social media, in addition to generating insights on ways to counter health misinformation online.
Selected Relevant Publications
Misinformation as a Misunderstood Challenge to Public Health. Southwell BG, Niederdeppe J, Cappella JN, Gaysynsky A, Kelley DE, Oh A, Peterson EB, Chou WS. Am J Prev Med, 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2019.03.009
Addressing health-related misinformation on social media. Chou WS, Oh A, Klein WMP. JAMA, 2018. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2018.16865
How do social media users process cancer prevention messages on Facebook? An eye-tracking study. Chou WS., Trivedi N, Peterson EB, Gaysynsky A, Krakow M, & Vraga E. (2020). Patient Educ Couns, 2020. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2020.01.013
“Trust and Misinformation in the Age of Social Media”
An invitation-only working group meeting was held August 23-24, 2018, at the NCI Shady Grove Campus. The meeting leveraged scientific expertise from diverse disciplines and sectors (e.g., journalism, computer science, and health communication) to develop a research agenda for understanding and addressing cancer-related misinformation on social media platforms.
 Pew Research Center. “Americans Are Wary of the Role Social Media Sites Play in Delivering the News”. October 2019. Available at: https://www.journalism.org/2019/10/02/americans-are-wary-of-the-role-social-media-sites-play-in-delivering-the-news/
 Sharma, M., Yadav, K., Yadav, N., & Ferdinand, K. C. (2017). Zika virus pandemic—analysis of Facebook as a social media health information platform. American journal of infection control, 45(3), 301-302; Oyeyemi, S. O., Gabarron, E., & Wynn, R. (2014). Ebola, Twitter, and misinformation: a dangerous combination?. BMJ, 349, g6178.
 Broniatowski, D. A., Jamison, A. M., Qi, S., AlKulaib, L., Chen, T., Benton, A., ... & Dredze, M. (2018). Weaponized health communication: Twitter bots and Russian trolls amplify the vaccine debate. American journal of public health, 108(10), 1378-1384.
 Newport, F. “Americans’ Confidence in Institutions Edges Up”. Gallup, Inc. June 26, 2017. Available at: https://news.gallup.com/poll/212840/americans-confidence-institutions-edges.aspx *