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Fake news, influencers and health-related professional participation on the Web: A pilot study on a social-network of people with Multiple Sclerosis.

Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2018 Jul 31;25:175-178

Authors: Lavorgna L, De Stefano M, Sparaco M, Moccia M, Abbadessa G, Montella P, Buonanno D, Esposito S, Clerico M, Cenci C, Trojsi F, Lanzillo R, Rosa L, Morra VB, Ippolito D, Maniscalco G, Bisecco A, Tedeschi G, Bonavita S

Abstract
BACKGROUND: Over the last few decades, patients have increasingly been searching for health information on the Internet. This aspect of information seeking is important, especially for people affected by chronic pathologies and require lifelong treatment and management. These people are usually very well informed about the disease but are nonetheless vulnerable to hopes of being cured or saved, often amplified by misinformation, myths, legends, and therapies that are not always scientifically proven. Many studies suggest that some individuals prefer to rely on the Internet as their main source of information, often hindering the patient-doctor relationship. A professional approach is imperative to maintain confidentiality, honesty, and trust in the medical profession.
OBJECTIVE: we aimed to examine, in a medically supervised Italian web community (SMsocialnetwotk.com) dedicated to people with Multiple Sclerosis (pwMS), the posts shared by users and to verify the reliability of contents of posts shared by users pinpointed as Influencers through an online questionnaire.
METHODS: we grouped the posts published on SMsocialnetwork from April to June 2015 into those with medical content (scientifically correct or fake news), and those related to social interactions. Later, we gave a questionnaire to the community asking to identify the three users/Influencers providing the most reliable advice for everyday life with MS and the three users/Influencers providing the most useful information about MS treatments.
RESULTS: 308 posts reported scientific and relevant medical information, whereas 72 posts included pieces of fake news. 1420 posts were of general interest. Four out of the 6 Influencers had written only posts with correct medical information (3 were pwMS, 1 was a Neurologist) and never any fake news. The remaining 2 appointed Influencers (2 pwMS) had written only posts about general interests.
CONCLUSION: the identification of fake news and their authors has shown that the latter are never appointed as Influencers. SMsocialnetwork.com acted as a “web safe environment” where the Influencers contributed by sharing only correct medical information and never fake news. We speculate that the presence of neurologists and psychologists supervising the information flow might have contributed to reduce the risk of fake news spreading and to avoid their acquisition of authoritative meaning.

PMID: 30096683 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

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