Wellcome launches social media health info research probe

Health improvement foundation wants to find out how influential – and how authentic – information and guidance is for parents on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp.

Chloe Green | 23rd Jul 18
Generic image of mother and infants on sofa using a tablet PC. Wellcome is researching the impact that health info on social media might have on decisions parents make about how to keep their families healthy.

Charitable foundation Wellcome has launched a research programme to investigate the spread of health information on social media, and the impact that fake health news might have on the decisions people make about how to keep themselves and their families healthy.

Wellcome has appointed social change charity Shift to explore health information on social media from the point of view of real-life 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, will serve as an advisor on the project.

The research will include an in-depth examination 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, such as 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 record 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.

To be eligible to participate in the research, parents must be frequent users of social media, use social media to access and/or share child health information. They 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 it should take action on, the foundation said, and if so, identify potential design opportunities for interventions that would empower people to access, use, and evaluate health information on social media.

“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,” said Farrah Nazir, Acting Creative and Partnerships Lead, at Wellcome. “This collaboration with Shift [has the] potential to provide evidence and real insight into a complex issue.”

“We know from years of working with parents that making sense of the vast amount of information available online is hard and knowing who to trust even harder,” said Nick Stanhope, CEO at Shift.

The programme runs until 31 August 2018.