Cancer misinformation on social media

Stacy Loeb, Aisha T. Langford, Marie A. Bragg, Robert Sherman, June M. Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Social media is widely used globally by patients, families of patients, health professionals, scientists, and other stakeholders who seek and share information related to cancer. Despite many benefits of social media for cancer care and research, there is also a substantial risk of exposure to misinformation, or inaccurate information about cancer. Types of misinformation vary from inaccurate information about cancer risk factors or unproven treatment options to conspiracy theories and public relations articles or advertisements appearing as reliable medical content. Many characteristics of social media networks—such as their extensive use and the relative ease it allows to share information quickly—facilitate the spread of misinformation. Research shows that inaccurate and misleading health-related posts on social media often get more views and engagement (e.g., likes, shares) from users compared with accurate information. Exposure to misinformation can have downstream implications for health-related attitudes and behaviors. However, combatting misinformation is a complex process that requires engagement from media platforms, scientific and health experts, governmental organizations, and the general public. Cancer experts, for example, should actively combat misinformation in real time and should disseminate evidence-based content on social media. Health professionals should give information prescriptions to patients and families and support health literacy. Patients and families should vet the quality of cancer information before acting upon it (e.g., by using publicly available checklists) and seek recommended resources from health care providers and trusted organizations. Future multidisciplinary research is needed to identify optimal ways of building resilience and combating misinformation across social media.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCa-A Cancer Journal for Clinicians
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Keywords

  • digital health
  • fake news
  • health literacy
  • misinformation
  • social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology

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