HCIRB Research Priority: Misinformation in the Age of Social Media

HCIRB researchers are working to address an urgent problem in public health: the proliferation of health-related misinformation on social media platforms.

In an August 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 67% of Americans reported getting at least some of their news from social media platforms (e.g., Facebook and Twitter)[1]. This is concerning both because studies have documented a substantial amount of inaccurate or false health information on these platforms[2], and because the increasing reliance on social media platforms for information is occurring in a time of generally low trust in social institutions and the news media[3].

In response to these trends and developments, HCIRB is undertaking several new initiatives to understand and address trust and misinformation related to cancer on social media. Key research questions include:

  • What is the prevalence of cancer-related misinformation on social media platforms?
  • 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’s trustworthiness?
  • What are the most effective ways to address misinformation on various social media platforms?

The ultimate goal of these initiatives is to help health practitioners and clinical care providers better respond to and correct cancer-related misinformation.

Special issue about health misinformation on social media

The American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, plans to publish a special issue highlighting research that answers fundamental questions about health misinformation on social media.

The special issue will focus on four main content areas:

  1. Health misinformation surveillance
  2. The context of health misinformation
  3. The impact of health misinformation
  4. Responses/interventions to address health misinformation

Proposals for the special issue were due August 30, 2019. The special issue will be published in October 2020.

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 are conducting a mixed-methods study that uses eye tracking, self-report measures, and interviews to examine how individuals interact with cancer-related health information on social media platforms.

Specifically, the study seeks to explore:

  • how individuals assess the credibility of information,
  • how they evaluate whether an information source is trustworthy,
  • how they identify and respond to misinformation,
  • and how exposure to misinformation might influence perceptions and behaviors related to cancer prevention.

Findings from this study may inform strategies for presenting evidence-based health information to the public via social media, in addition to generating insights on approaches to countering health misinformation online.


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

Related Events

“Trust and Misinformation in the Age of Social Media”

An invitation-only working group meeting on August 23-24, 2018, at the NCI Shady Grove Campus 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.

Discussion topics included:

  • the prevalence and extent of cancer misinformation online
  • the consequences of misinformation: When and why does it matter?
  • remedies and responses to cancer misinformation
  • methodological considerations for conducting research on misinformation

In addition to outlining research questions, study designs, data sources, and analytic approaches for advancing research in this area, the working group identified effective strategies for preventing and combatting misinformation.

[1] Pew Research Center. “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2017”. September 7, 2017. Available at: http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2017/09/13163032/PJ_17.08.23_socialMediaUpdate_FINAL.pdf exit disclaimer

[2] 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.

[3] 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 exit disclaimer *