Social media and the spread of health information

We are delighted to announce that Wellcome has appointed Shift as their insights partner for a new piece of research exploring the issue of health information on social media.

The problems associated with viral misinformation is well-documented with regards to politics and international affairs, but less so for health information. Given that recent research published by MIT found that false news is 70 per cent more likely than verified news to receive a retweet, 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.

In this project Shift and global charitable foundation Wellcome are working together to explore health information on social media from the point of view of parents, using as a case study parents with young children who are making a decision on whether or not to vaccinate their children. Dr Tom Stafford, a health psychologist at Sheffield University, is an advisor on the project.

The research will include a deep dive into the social media world of these parents, looking at what kinds of health information parents see and share on the platforms they use most frequently, including Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.

Participants will use digital diaries to post screenshots of the information appearing on their social media feeds and to capture their engagement with health information and what it means to them. The digital diaries will be followed by immersive interviews in participants’ homes to explore more deeply how they evaluate information truthfulness and accuracy and why they share health information with others. The parents are being recruited by a specialist recruitment agency. To be eligible to take part in the research, they have to be frequent users of social media, use social media to access and/or share child health information and to have actively considered whether or not to vaccinate their child.

The insights from the research will be used by Wellcome 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.

Nick Stanhope, CEO of Shift commented, “We know from our many years of working closely with parents that making sense of the vast amount of information now available online is hard and knowing who to trust even harder. Shift and Wellcome  share a commitment to making high quality health information more accessible, so we’re very excited to be working with them on this.

Farrah Nazir, Acting Creative & Partnerships Lead, 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 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.”

Shift is committed to improving the information landscape for parents, and will be building on previous work we have done in partnership with NCT, the UK’s largest parenting charity, to launch our new digital platform Tip. Tip, an intervention that uses personalisation to increase access to and trust in evidence-based information, will be launched in closed beta later this year.

Shift has recently published a research insights and design opportunities report: Designing products that empower parents.

The research will be taking place from now until the end of August.