More than half of marijuana medical claims on Twitter were tweeted by bots

By January 18, 2020 Recent News

APHA Press 19 December 2019
Family First Comment:This is a significant study – and shows how the debate is being skewed… to the detriment of public health.

“Posts generated by bots that indicated cannabis could allay health concerns outnumbered those generated by humans. “Unsubstantiated health claims perpetuated by social bots may have offline consequences, such as leaving Twitter users with the impression that cannabis use can allay health problems such as cancer,” the researchers warn. They note that previous research shows adolescents exposed to messages about marijuana benefits on social media are more likely to use the drug than those not exposed to such messages.”

Distil Networks defines social media bots as “A type of bot on a social media network used to automatically generate messages, advocate ideas, act as a follower of users, and as a fake account to gain followers itself. It is estimated that 9%-15% of Twitter accounts may be social bots.”

Researchers from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles mined tweets of cannabis conversations on Twitter from May 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018. Using sophisticated software, they were able to distinguish between tweets generated by humans and those generated by bots.

Twitter posts studied discussed “edibles, hemp, legalization, buying products, cannabis’ appeal or abuse liability, and health claims among other issues. Most of these topics were evenly divided between humans and bots, but posts generated by bots that indicated cannabis could allay health concerns outnumbered those generated by humans.

“Unsubstantiated health claims perpetuated by social bots may have offline consequences, such as leaving Twitter users with the impression that cannabis use can allay health problems such as cancer,” the researchers warn.

They note that previous research shows adolescents exposed to messages about marijuana benefits on social media are more likely to use the drug than those not exposed to such messages.

They conclude that “the current study’s findings should be important to the public health community, as repeated exposure to pro-cannabis messaging and cannabis use by others can influence the social norms of those exposed to the content and lead to initiation of the behaviours.”

See infographic describing social bots here.
Visit Distil Networks for more information about social media bots here.
READ MORE: https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305461?journalCode=ajph&

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