JMIR: A Call for a Public Health Agenda for Social Media Research

1 February, 2020

In this era of growing misinformation on social media, this call for action is timely. Citation, abstract and a comment from me below.

CITATION: Sherry Pagoto, Molly E Waring and Ran Xu

A Call for a Public Health Agenda for Social Media Research

J Med Internet Res. 2019 Dec; 21(12): e16661.

Published online 2019 Dec 19. doi: 10.2196/16661

Corresponding author: sherry.pagoto AT


Research has revealed both the benefits and harms of social media use, but the public has very little guidance on how best to use social media to maximize the benefits to their health and well-being while minimizing the potential harms. Given that social media is intricately embedded in our lives, and we now have an entire generation of social media natives, the time has come for a public health research agenda to guide not only the public’s use of social media but also the design of social media platforms in ways that improve health and well-being. In this viewpoint we propose such a public health agenda for social media research that is framed around three broad questions: (1) How much social media use is unhealthy and what individual and contextual factors shape that relationship; (2) What are ways social media can be used to improve physical and mental well-being; and (3) How does health (mis)information spread, how does it shape attitudes, beliefs and behavior, and what policies or public health strategies are effective in disseminating legitimate health information while curbing the spread of health misinformation? We also discuss four key challenges that impede progress on this research agenda: negative sentiment about social media among the public and scientific community, a poorly regulated research landscape, poor access to social media data, and the lack of a cohesive academic field. Social media has revolutionized modern communication in ways that bring us closer to a global society, but we currently stand at an inflection point. A public health agenda for social media research will serve as a compass to guide us toward social media becoming a powerful tool for the public good.

Comment (Neil PW): The paper notes the importance of health literacy. Nowhere is this more important than for the 90% of the global population who live in low- and middle-income countries. HIFA looks forward to contribute to the debate and research agenda. I have invited the authors to join us.

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Information for Citizens, Parents and Children

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA:

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: