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Evaluation of Health Information on the Web

Is there criteria available for evaluating information on social media?

Social Networking Sites are legitimate communication tools and can be a fast way to get all kinds of information, from people you already know as well as the rest of the world. And they have proved useful in disseminating health information where timeliness is key: disasters, flu outbreaks, etc. 

The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) published a discussion paper in 2021 focused on evaluating sources of health information on social media platforms. They presented three principles, and corresponding attributes, for identifying credible sources of health information on social media. 

1. Science-based

The health information being presented on social media should be consistent with “the best scientific evidence at the time” (NAM, 2021), as well as be held to the standards of scientific review and presentation. Sources of health information should: 

  • Acknowledge limitations, and early/incomplete knowledge 

  • Date information and update content regularly 

  • Ensure the content presented is consistent with findings in that subject 

  • Link to other credible sources and provide citations for information 

  • Pull from multiple sources 

  • Use a consensus process when determining what information is to be shared 

  • Verify the credibility of the sources they’re using through peer review (or other content review method)

2. Objective:

The sources publishing information on social media should take steps to reduce conflicts of interest and bias that may impact the quality of the health information. Sources should: 

  • Keep ads, other messages (financial, political, ideological, etc.), and lobbying activities separate from health information 

  • Remain independent from their funders

3. Transparent and Accountable:

Disclose limitations of the information, conflicts of interest, as well as errors in both content and procedure should be disclosed. Sources should: 

  • Disclose all conflicts (financial, political, etc.), policy positions, and lobbying activities 

  • Follow transparency policies 

  • Post corrections to the information 

  • Present information in a way that is accessible to all users 

  • Provide feedback options 

  • Have the data, methods, and sources used available