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August 2017
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BRAIN: Social Media as Medical Validator

The electronic word of mouth (eWOM) is a communication form adapted to the digitalized world of today where persons that never met communicate in an impersonal manner. The paper Social Media as Medical Validator written by Laura Broasca, Versavia-Maria Ancusa and Horia Ciocarlie aims to explore the receptiveness towards a negative bias in health-related electronic Word of Mouth.

The researchers point out that when evaluating the credibility of the eWOM we should take into account that social factors play an unexpected role, as most people use personal details and peripheral cues, not a clear, logical, fact-based judgement to reach a conclusion. And yet, the credibility of the traditional information sources is surpassed by that of eWOM.

Google trends comparison between vaccine-related search words
Google trends comparison between vaccine-related search words

To conduct this research the authors used a controversial, yet well-known subject, with enough relevant information available both in the scientific and social forums. Vaccines fit these requirements very well, given that their effectiveness is highly debated and people are strongly divided into two opposing categories.

Broadly, this analysis reveals that the influence of some non-scientific alarmist opinions is definitely visible to a lot of social media users and can induce a certain bias. The researchers concluded that classifying the information availabale online into categories (good or bad) and drawing conclusions regarding the benefits or damaging side effects of vaccines could lead to a wrong result that would not reflect reality.

Otherwise stated, medical research validation regarding controversial health subjects cannot be based solely on social media due to factors like negative biases, social influence and medically unprepared people with a high visibility among social media users that spread non-scientific opinions.

Emilia Șteț