A third of popular cancer articles contain misinformation


Well being misinformation runs rampant on the web, but it surely’s not restricted to COVID-19. New analysis revealed in The Journal of The Nationwide Cancer Institute discovered {that a} third of essentially the most popular articles on social media regarding therapy for widespread cancers contain factual inaccuracies.

“A lot of the misinformation we recognized had been claims that the present cancer remedies that now we have are ineffective or extra poisonous than they really are, in addition to statements that there are different ‘cures’ which are mainly unproven or disproven that embody excessive diets or natural treatments, folks treatments,” says Dr. Skyler Johnson, Huntsman Cancer Institute physician-scientist and assistant professor of radiation oncology on the College of Utah, who led the research.

Utilizing a webscraping device, Skyler and a gaggle of researchers pulled 200 of essentially the most popular articles on lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer discovered on Twitter, Fb, Pinterest, and Reddit between January 2018 and December 2019. Two area specialists from Nationwide Complete Cancer Community reviewed the posts and assessed them for misinformation and potential for hurt. Of the articles recognized as misinformation, 83% contained dangerous content material. Engagement with doubtlessly dangerous content material, which predominantly occurred on Fb, was additionally increased than articles deemed secure or benign. Johnson says that the majority of the articles containing dangerous content material originated from new age web sites and never from respected information media.


“One of the issues that I noticed, which is perhaps as a result of it was actually topical, was so much of ‘hashish cures cancer,’” he says. “That was a recurring theme and it wasn’t only one sort of cancer, it was common.” He says it might need been as a result of of the timeframe. Between 2018 and 2019, there have been a quantity of discussions on the state and federal stage round decriminalizing marijuana.

Well being misinformation has lengthy plagued social media websites like those talked about on this research, however the unfold of false data round COVID-19 has introduced consideration to the phenomenon. Early on the in pandemic, the World Well being Group dubbed the proliferation of COVID-19 myths an “infodemic.” Since then, social websites like Fb, Twitter, and YouTube have instituted bans on COVID-19 misinformation, appended labels to questionable data on the virus, taken down pseudoscience accounts, and invested in selling credible organizations and websites. However misinformation on social media networks has continued to proliferate and hamper the on-going effort to vaccinate the worldwide populous. These efforts have additionally not prolonged to all well being misinformation.

Johnson’s hope is that the knowledge on this research may help inform future coverage round well being misinformation on social media. However, he additionally plans to make use of this and forthcoming research to design software program that may assist sufferers determine misinformation once they see it. This may increasingly take the shape of a plug-in or browser extension. “It will be good if once they pull up an article on Fb there was a pop-up or one thing that claims, ‘there’s a excessive chance that that is misinformation,’” he says.

The research requires future analysis that makes an attempt perceive who’s most vulnerable to this misinformation and assesses its influence. Johnson says his colleague Laura Scherer, a misinformation communications researcher on the college, has already published research discovering that individuals who consider in misinformation about one matter are more likely to consider misinformation about one other matter. That sort of work will in the end assist outline easy methods to goal options to at-risk populations.

Johnson is at present engaged on a research centered on discovering predictors that somebody will consider on-line cancer misinformation. In one other upcoming research, Johnson says he and his colleagues will try to determine traits of misinformation, knowledge that can in the end help with the software program he’s hoping to construct. Whether or not or not social platforms can successfully silence misinformation, sufferers are inevitably going to come across it, he says, and there should be simple methods for them to parse it.

“They’re the weak inhabitants, they’re those who’re fearful and scared or on the lookout for hope,” he says. “We’ve to assist them discover methods to navigate the murky waters of the web.”