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Evaluating Health Information on the Web: Evaluating Social Media

This guide discusses evaluation criteria to be used in evaluating health information on websites and social media sites.

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Social networks are changing the face of online health information…

Consumers and healthcare professionals are increasingly turning to social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and specialized networks for health information.

These social networks can benefit patients and their caregivers in providing:

  • support
  • specialized knowledge from peers
  • positive self-image reinforcement
  • mobilized community
  • accessibility and convenience
  • improved outcomes

There are also risks involved:

  • privacy issues
  • lack of transparency of advertisers
  • security issues
  • misinformation

Evaluating social networks requires additional evaluation criteria

Evaluation criteria include the previous five (sponsorship, disclaimer, currency, verifiability, audience) plus:
  • Ease of use: Images, icons and other visual elements can be used to facilitate learning. Navigation and next steps should be intuitive.
  • Privacy policy: The privacy policy should be available within two clicks of the main page. Policies should be readable by those with an eighth grade reading level.
  • Checks on quality of content: Links to an outside organization should be on the home page. Specific information about numbers or credentials of moderators should be readily available.
  • Transparency of ads: There should be a clear distinction between advertising and editorial content.
  • Security of member data: The privacy policy should be backed up by technology, such as encryption, a secure socket layer (https://) and an external audit of security practices.
  • Member control of information sharing: Users should be able to restrict access or sharing of information to community members