Amira Ghenai, PhD candidate
David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science
Social media’s unfettered access has made it an important venue for health discussion and a resource for patients and their loved ones. However, the quality of the information available, as well as the motivations of its posters, has been questioned. This work examines the individuals on social media that are posting questionable health-related information, and in particular promoting cancer treatments which have been shown to be ineffective (making it a kind of misinformation, willful or not).
Using a multi-stage user selection process, we study 4,212 Twitter users who have posted about one of 139 such “treatments,” and compare them to a baseline of users generally interested in cancer. Considering features capturing user attributes, writing style, and sentiment, we build a classifier which is able to identify users prone to propagate such misinformation at an accuracy of over 90%, providing a potential tool for public health officials to identify such individuals for preventive intervention.