November 11, 2019

Journal Article: Automatically Appraising the Credibility of Vaccine-Related Web Pages Shared on Social Media: A Twitter Surveillance Study

The article linked below was recently published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research (J Med Internet Res).

Title

Automatically Appraising the Credibility of Vaccine-Related Web Pages Shared on Social Media: A Twitter Surveillance Study

Authors

Katja Reuter, PhD
University of Southern California

Yifan Zhu, MLIS
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Praveen Angya, MS
University of Southern California

NamQuyen Le MPH
University of Southern California

Akil A Merchant, MD
Cedars Sinai Medical Center

Michael Zimmer, PhD
Marquette University

Source

J Med Internet Res 2019; 21(10):e15455
DOI: 10.2196/14007

Abstract

Background
Social networks such as Twitter offer the clinical research community a novel opportunity for engaging potential study participants based on user activity data. However, the availability of public social media data has led to new ethical challenges about respecting user privacy and the appropriateness of monitoring social media for clinical trial recruitment. Researchers have voiced the need for involving users’ perspectives in the development of ethical norms and regulations.

Objective
This study examined the attitudes and level of concern among Twitter users and nonusers about using Twitter for monitoring social media users and their conversations to recruit potential clinical trial participants.

Methods
We used two online methods for recruiting study participants: the open survey was (1) advertised on Twitter between May 23 and June 8, 2017, and (2) deployed on TurkPrime, a crowdsourcing data acquisition platform, between May 23 and June 8, 2017. Eligible participants were adults, 18 years of age or older, who lived in the United States. People with and without Twitter accounts were included in the study.

Results
While nearly half the respondents—on Twitter (94/603, 15.6%) and on TurkPrime (509/603, 84.4%)—indicated agreement that social media monitoring constitutes a form of eavesdropping that invades their privacy, over one-third disagreed and nearly 1 in 5 had no opinion. A chi-square test revealed a positive relationship between respondents’ general privacy concern and their average concern about Internet research (P<.005). We found associations between respondents’ Twitter literacy and their concerns about the ability for researchers to monitor their Twitter activity for clinical trial recruitment (P=.001) and whether they consider Twitter monitoring for clinical trial recruitment as eavesdropping (P<.001) and an invasion of privacy (P=.003). As Twitter literacy increased, so did people’s concerns about researchers monitoring Twitter activity. Our data support the previously suggested use of the nonexceptionalist methodology for assessing social media in research, insofar as social media-based recruitment does not need to be considered exceptional and, for most, it is considered preferable to traditional in-person interventions at physical clinics. The expressed attitudes were highly contextual, depending on factors such as the type of disease or health topic (eg, HIV/AIDS vs obesity vs smoking), the entity or person monitoring users on Twitter, and the monitored information.

Conclusions
The data and findings from this study contribute to the critical dialogue with the public about the use of social media in clinical research. The findings suggest that most users do not think that monitoring Twitter for clinical trial recruitment constitutes inappropriate surveillance or a violation of privacy. However, researchers should remain mindful that some participants might find social media monitoring problematic when connected with certain conditions or health topics. Further research should isolate factors that influence the level of concern among social media users across platforms and populations and inform the development of more clear and consistent guidelines.

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Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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