Strategies to combat medical misinformation on social media

23 November, 2019

CITATION: Strategies to combat medical misinformation on social media (Editorial, free access)

Postgraduate Medical Journal 2019

Samuel P Trethewey

'It is likely that a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach, using a wide range of interventions, will be required to counter the spread of medical misinformation on social media.4 This editorial discusses potential strategies to help to address this important public health issue...'


The sheer volume of medical information online can make it difficult to retrieve reliable, evidence-based information and distinguish medical fact from fiction. The multifaceted nature of medical misinformation means that we cannot expect any single intervention to solve the problem alone. Further research is urgently needed to build our understanding of how medical misinformation spreads via social media and to identify the most effective strategies to address this important public health problem.


'Careful dissemination of medical research is paramount in the fight against medical misinformation. Evidence suggests that research findings are often exaggerated or misrepresented in press releases and news media,5 and one of the main factors associated with ‘spin’ in press releases is ‘spin’ in article abstract conclusions. It is crucial that research findings are presented in an accurate, unbiased and balanced way in the biomedical literature, if we are to expect news media journalists and the general public to interpret these findings appropriately.'

'A possible countermeasure is to perform targeted, expert fact-checking of social media posts. The method by which expert fact-checking is performed can mirror the open peer-review process used by medical journals: independent experts can be identified and asked to publicly review the content of social media posts to determine their accuracy. Specific fact-checking processes can be tailored to individual social media platforms. For example, labelling tweets with a ‘Reviewed Content’ status, following a formal peer-review process, could be a way to flag content as ‘fact-checked’ on Twitter.'

'Research is urgently needed to identify effective ways to infiltrate ‘information silos’ and ‘echo chambers’ to counter selective exposure, minimise confirmation bias and encourage balanced debate on topics of public health importance.'

'It may also be useful to consider novel ways to directly engage with the public to facilitate open dialogue regarding controversial health topics. An interesting example is the ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) initiative on the social media platform Reddit.17 In AMA sessions, experts are invited to answer questions from Reddit users, to encourage a two-way dialogue between experts and the public regarding specific topics.'

'A key goal should be to foster a culture of fact-checking within the general public. Evidence suggests that people with lower health literacy may be more likely to trust sources of health information on social media and blogs.18 By helping laypeople to develop greater scientific and critical health literacy skills, we may empower them to question the validity of health information shared on social media.'

Best wishes, Neil

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

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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: