Looking at abortion information in the social media age

Article

At the 2023 ACOG Annual Clinic & Scientific Meeting, a look at the accuracy of women’s health issues when posted on Instagram.

Looking at abortion information in the social media age: ©  Urupong - stock.adobe.com

Looking at abortion information in the social media age: © Urupong - stock.adobe.com

Kaylee Potter, DO; Callie Cox Bauer, DO, of Aurora Sinai Medical Center, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Rahim N. Laiwalla, MS; Shannon Lanza, MS, of Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, Chicago, Illinois, shared their study, “A look at social media and misinformation in regard to abortion,” at the 2023 ACOG conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

The investigators had set out to look at the rate of medical misinformation related to abortion on social media (in this case, they had chosen the Instagram platform for assessment), as well as analyze where the various sources of information came from, ie, physicians, other medical professionals, or non-medical professionals. “Studies have demonstrated the usefulness of social media in increasing health literacy, self-efficiency, and treatment adherence; however, it can also be harmful as studies have demonstrated that online health information varies widely in completeness, accuracy, and quality, meaning that a growing number of patients who seek out health information online may be exposed to conflicting or misleading information,” the investigators summarized.

Researchers used open-source posts through Instagram that were collected with a custom web-scraper program. Posts had to have greater than 250 likes and be posted between January 1, 2022, and July 11, 2022, containing at least one prespecified hashtag: #AbortionPill, #AbortionFacts, #UnplannedPregnancy. Assessment of the accuracy of all posts was based on guidelines from ACOG, the CDC, the Guttmacher Institute, and the World Health Organization.

Results were pulled from 679 posts, with the the final data set 579 posts; 100 posts were not used because they had either been deleted at the time of analysis, or were non-English posts.

Of the 579 posts, 97% were from nonmedical professionals; only 1.5% were from physicians and 1.5% from nonphysician medical professionals.

In terms of accuracy, 63.5% of the posts contained factual information; 36.5% contained misinformation. Of the posts containing misinformation, 79% of posts were from nonmedical professionals, but 10.5% were from physicians, with another 10.5% from nonphysican medical professionals.

Additionally, 47.9% of all posts consisted of proabortion content; 34.8% took an antiabortion stance, and 17.3% took no stance at all. Of the posts that contained medical misinformation, 15.8% took a proabortion stance while 84% took an antiabortion stance.

Investigators concluded that social media distributes both accurate and inaccurate medical information by pro- and antiabortion believers. “This study,” concluded the investigators, “demonstrated not only that medical information related to abortion exists on social media, but that not all circulated information is accurate…we believe this to have clinical significance. Studies have shown that patients may be exposed to large amounts of contradictory information on social media and that this may have an impact on their perceptions and behaviors related to their health and health care. Clinicians should be aware that medical misinformation is prevalent on social media and may impact patient counseling and care.”

Reference

Potter KG; Lanza SM; Laiwalla RN; Bauer CMC. A look at social media and misinformation in regard to abortion. 2023 ACOG Annual Clinical & Scientific Meeting. May 19-21. Baltimore, Maryland.

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