Wellcome launches research to investigate fake health news on social media

Working with the social change charity Shift, the foundation will look at the type of health information parents see and share on social media

The global charitable foundation Wellcome is working with the social change charity Shift to investigate health information on social media and the impact of fake news.

The research will use a case study involving parents with young children who are deciding whether or not to vaccinate their children. It will look at the social media world of the parents, examining what kinds of health information parents see and share on the platforms they use most frequently, including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Wellcome said that problems associated with viral misinformation – or fake news – is well documented with regards to politics and international affairs, but less so for health information. It cited recent research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that fake news is 70 per cent more likely than verified news to be retweeted. Wellcome said the spread of health misinformation on social media could be having an impact on the decisions people make about how to keep themselves and their families healthy.

Participants will use digital diaries to post screenshots of the information appearing on their social media feeds, capturing their engagement with health information and what it means to them. The digital diaries will be followed by interviews in participants’ homes to discover how they evaluate the truthfulness and accuracy of information and why they share health information with others.

Wellcome will use the results to consider whether the spread of health information on social media is an issue that they could take meaningful action on and, if so, identify potential design opportunities for interventions that would empower people to access, use and evaluate health information on social media.

Farrah Nazir, acting creative & partnerships lead at Wellcome, said: "Finding ways that help the public play their own role in Wellcome’s mission to improve health is core to our work in public engagement. We want to empower more people to feel able to access, challenge and respond to health research.

"To do that, we need clearer understanding of how people use and share health information, and must understand their experience of health and science. We’re excited about this collaboration with Shift because of its potential to provide evidence and real insight into a complex issue."

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