“Internet and social media misinform thousands daily”

A recent analysis of the internet and social media illustrates the up-hill battle science and health professionals, and pro-science lay people, often face with misinformation and outright distortion of science. The authors show the problem for the case of community water fluoridation and concluded:

“The Internet and social media are misinforming thousands of people daily about the safety, health, and economic benefits of community water fluoridation. The leading anti-fluoridation website had 5 to 60 times more traffic than the two leading profluoridation health organizations. All Groups and Pages analyzed on Facebook were against fluoridation, while 99 percent of the videos searched on YouTube and the majority (70 percent) of fluoridation tweets on Twitter were anti-CWF fluoridation.”

This study drew important lessons for science and health professions:

Pro-fluoridation organizations need to have a better presence on the Internet and utilize social media to educate the American people about the facts on fluoridation. Individual dental and health practitioners need to educate their patients about fluoridation, so their patients will not be easily misguided by misinformation on the Internet and social media.

And, of course, these lessons are just as applicable to New Zealand.

The study is reported in the paper:

Mertz & Allukian (2014). Community Water Fluoridation on the Internet and Social Media. Journal of the Massachusetts Dental Society, 63(2), 32–36. (You can download a pdf here.)

They monitored website traffic for major fluoridation websites from June 2011 – May 2012 and fluoridation information on Facebook on April 3, 2012. In addition they collected search data for the term “fluoridation” on Twitter for 2 periods (March 1 – 14 and April 1 – 14, 2012) and on YouTube for April 3, 2012.

The data

I illustrate some examples of the data presented in the figures and tables below.

This figure shows that the most important anti-fluoridation website, Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network, had far more traffic than the Wikipedia fluoridation section and the institutional web sites (which are pro-fluoridation) on fluoridation.

web-sites

The situation for Facebook groups and pages was even more dire with 193 search results being “anti” while none were “pro.”

Table-1

The Twitter search also showed far more anti- than pro-fluoridation tweets, although the data shows  the numbers are influenced by important articles.

Table-2

Some observations

Of course this is a limited study and much more could be said about this situation, the business interests driving it and possible solutions. I list a few observations below:

1: This study is a snapshot in time. For example, Table 1 would look a little different at this time (January 2015) than it did in April 2012. There are now a number of specifically pro-fluoridation, or at least uncommitted Facebook pages and groups.

My brief search for Facebook “pages” and “groups” using the words fluoride or fluoridation showed about 8 pro-fluoridation, or neutral, pages in the first 50 results for “fluoride” and 2 for “fluoridation.” There were about 4 “pro” Facebook groups in the first 50 for either of these two search terms.

Things are improving. In New Zealand we have seen an increased activity of pro-science groups since the undemocratic decision (now reversed) of the Hamilton City Council to stop fluoridation. This was under pressure from anti-fluoride activists (nationally and internationally) and against the expressed wishes of the citizens. Similar fight-backs are happening overseas – in USA, Canada, Ireland and the UK. The progress is welcome  but more is required. Although I should note there is a tendency for anti-fluoridation activists to set up Facebook pages for many locations where there may have been suggestions of campaigns but the pages become inactive in a short while.

2: Who is financing these anti-fluoridation websites and social media activity? There is a clear connection between the “natural” health industry and anti-fluoridation organisations and activity. Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network is organisationally connected with Mercola’s “natural” health business (and anti-vaccination groups) through the “Health Liberty” organisation  and financial flows from Mercolla to FAN are well known. Similarly in  New Zealand the “natural” health industry, through the NZ Health trust, has financed legal action of anti-fluoridation groups (see Who is funding anti-fluoridation High Court action? and Corporate backers of anti-fluoride movement lose in NZ High Court).

3: Is there an underlying purposeful strategy behind then internet and social media anti-fluoridation activity? Definitely. I gave an example illustrating this in Anti-fluoridationist astro-turfing and media manipulation. Activist groups will create press releases pretending to be scientifically authoritative. These are picked up by the “natural” health web sites and magazines (and sometimes, if they are lucky) by the main media. They get coverage on Facebook pages and are tweeted – often automatically by internet bots and the web sites themselves. They can easily create “Twitter storms” this way and widely spread their misinformation.

Here are some typical examples that get repeated ad nauseum:

And, the misinformation cycle gets repeated. Information on Twitter gets reproduced in blog comments and included in web sites and press releases.

4: Institutional web sites are not really suitable for this sort of debate on the internet and in social media. This is partly the problem of a serious, rational or logical web presence challenging an often emotional web presence. A calm explanation of the science challenging claims appealing to preconceived prejudices and emotional needs.

Also, institutions traditionally have felt such debates are somewhat “below” them, preferring not to get into what they see as “street-fighting.” Recently I heard of a case where an anti-pseudoscience group had asked permission to use material from a professional dental site for use in a booklet. They were turned down because the association could not see why this was necessary!

This suggests that pro-science activists should consider taking the initiative, launching their own web sites, etc., and participating in these sorts of struggles, rather than relying on existing institutions. Similarly such activists should see they can play a far more active role on Facebook and Twitter than institutions can, or a willing to.

Conclusion

This study shows that people are in general being misinformed by social media and the internet about community water fluoridation. I suggest this is not accidental – political and business interests are actively encouraging this misinformation. In particular, the “natural” health industry plays a key role in promoting misinformation on fluoridation.

Recently things are improving a little with a fight back from pro-science groups and individuals. I suggest their activity is essential as institutional groups and media outlets are not suited for  internet and social media debates.

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24 responses to ““Internet and social media misinform thousands daily”

  1. Well said, Ken. The giants are finally taking notice of this problem. The American Dental Association, for one, has recently committed significant funding for such educational initiatives, including internet and social media…..to the extreme consternation of, and squealing by, nyscof and “FAN”. The New York activists seem to be upset at having their “misinformarion highway” being cluttered with facts and evidence.

    Steven D. Slott, DDS

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  2. Nonsense, as usual, from you and Steven, Ken.
    People in general object to having their rate or tax monies spent on propaganda, which is all the ‘powers that be’ seem capable of delivering;
    just one side of the story, protecting the status quo so their sacred cows don’t get exposed for the big frauds they are . . . interestingly the Medsafe ‘consultation’ on making HFA and SSF’s exempt from the Medicines Act actually states that quite blatantly.
    To suggest the ‘natural’ health industry is not ‘pro-science’ is ridiculous.
    Science is belatedly catching up with ‘facts’ or knowledge that many of us have been applying for years and are only too happy to have science back up the claims – but don’t intend to wait for it to, and miss out on all that vibrant good health in the meantime . . . :}
    Look at the revelations concerning vitamin C:
    Look at the admission by Big Pharma that their heart medications make 40% that take them more likely to die from a heart attack – they are now scrambling to try to determine how to predict which individuals are likely to be affected – ‘individualisation’ of the prescription is what is needed; which is what homoeopathy has been doing for 200 years – wonder how much it will cost to re-invent this wheel?
    . . . but all good revenue for your mates huh?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Uh oh, they’re crawling out of the woodwork……

    Steven D. Slott, DDS

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  4. The anti fluoride lot are quick to say fluoride is not tested or there need to be random trails ect. Fluoride contains all these nasty contaminates. But when there mates in the Natural Health Industry sell some quack medicine that could contain any thing. They shut up
    Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994.
    This act iniquitously defined a “supplement” as “a product intended to supplement the diet that bears or contains one or more of the following ingredients: a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or other botanical, or an amino acid”. At a stroke, herbs were redefined as foods. There was no need to submit any evidence of either efficacy or even of safety, before marketing anything. All a manufacturer had to do to sell almost any herbal drug or megadose vitamin was to describe it as a “dietary supplement”. The lobbying to get this law through was based on appealing to the Tea Party tendency –get the government’s hands off our vitamins.
    Then Greenbuzzer says the Natural Health industry is pro science. The further away from science the quack potions they sell the better

    And if push came to shove, fluoride is a mineral ,so why is it not classified under this act??

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  5. Double edged sword for your here Ken. The more noise you make the greater the awareness grows. Why do you think the MOH and DHB never stick their heads up?

    Good luck and push as hard as you can because the more you push the sooner fluoridation is over.

    Cheers

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  6. Poor old Kane. He is at a loss trying to manage the Fluoride Free NZ FaceBook page which is stumbling along on replays of old articles so he resorts to using the article I mention here (nice to know you religiously read my posts Kane).

    Problem is he converts the articles conclusion from:

    “The Internet and social media are misinforming thousands of people daily about the safety, health, and economic benefits of community water fluoridation.”

    To:

    “Anti-fluoridation information significantly dominates the Internet and social media.” (https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1032619320088435&id=128729960477380)

    I guess that is typical of Connett’s crowd.

    >

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  7. It is sad when there is not enough bad fluoride news to keep the site fresh
    They have to drag up 2013 to fill the page

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  8. Interesting that you didn’t respond to my comment Ken.

    Double edged sword for your here Ken. The more noise you make the greater the awareness grows. Why do you think the MOH and DHB never stick their heads up?

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  9. Kane, poor soul, blusters away trying to cover up the pathetic activity of the FFNZ Facebook page under his control. Rehashing old articles and relying on this blog for several new articles. No wonder it now has hardly any readers and no real commenters.

    Wonder how long he will last. Will Kane go the way of Mark Atkins, the previous “Science and Legal Advisor” who was dumped because of his failures?

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  10. Now Ken, here I was patting you on the back and trying to give you support. How about trying to get an open debate between the Skegg/Gluckman and Connett/Hirzy.

    I’d say you would have past on before I give up but lets see.

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  11. Well, Kane, what about a debate between MSoF people and your Don Quixote duo?

    Come on, what about it? I would just love the sport.

    Yes, I know they won’t agree.

    Then what about a debate between you and me? After all as the commissar of your Facebook page you must have the knowledge and skills for this.

    It’s a bit pathetic you are still pretending you can organise such debates after your failures. It’s very noticeable you come to me to pretend to organise others. Yet avoid my suggestions!

    >

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  12. Ken, we are waiting for Gluckman and Skegg to respond.

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  13. Then why ask me, Kane?

    You are attempting to divert attention away from my comments in the run down FFNZ page (and your responsibility for that) and my exposure of your misrepresentation of the conclusions of Mertz & Allukian (2014).

    >

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  14. So Kane runs away with a direct email to me:

    “You bore the shit out of me.

    See ya”

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  15. Kane runs away with a direct email to me:
    “You bore the shit out of me. See ya”

    Yet Kane obviously watches this blog like a hawk, often being amongst the first to comment on Ken’s posts on fluoridation.

    Even in that regard he struggles to be honest.

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  16. Richard pointed me to Richard Cummings.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Cummings_%28writer%29
    which refers to:
    “”His Innocence Proves His Guilt,” written by Ronald Radosh, the reviewer judges that Cummings in that book has offered “a conspiracy theory marked by guilt by association and a failure to examine evidence that contradicts his own views.”

    I think there may be cherry picking on both sides.

    I do feel the world is driven by GDP. Anything which really decreases GDP finds it hard to catch on. I don’t think fluoridation decreases it enough to be much of a worry.

    When I look into how many dentists and hygienists are required in fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas Ken starts to talk about prostitutes and preachers. I don/t really get it, or think it helps his case.

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  17. That was interesting about Richard Cummings on Wikipedia.

    But I must apologise for being unclear, In mentioning richardcummingus disorder I was referring to an obsessive compulsive link-posting disease, the hideous effects of which can be seen here.

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  18. Bloody hell, are Climate Conversation and Richard Cummings still going? For some reason I had assumed they had evaporated. I guess that shows they have no influence outside their little silo.

    But I do notice a similarity between Soundhill and Richard. Surely they aren’t the same guy?

    Soundhill, my reference to prostitutes and ministers of religion seems to have not sunk home. It’s a classic situation but usually if you include both of these in your data your chances of finding significant correlations increase immensely. It’s a classic example of the folly of blindly searching for links in data.

    >

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  19. @ Richard

    Doesn’t seem to be much academic peer reviewed stuff in your link.

    For a start any pro-fluoridation site ought to have a section dealing with the known problems such as how to design dialysis machines, dealing with, not brushing off, the psychology of tooth mottling, and education about infant formulae.

    That they do not deal with those widely and give confidence, not just in the fine print, makes them look just like any other sales program.

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  20. When I talked of tooth mottling before someone offered a treatment. Such might be taken up if psychology of accepting mottled teeth does not suffice. Then there would be the question of what treatment does the least damage/produces the least xenoestrogens. Also who pays for all that. And what looks natural. Don’t really want the uranium that used to be used. More modern stuff tends to be nanotechnology which is a worry when polished since our cells do not have barriers against it. And there are other attempts to make the teeth fluoresce like natural ones but they may be too bright.

    Comments OK?

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  21. Another thing to give people some confidence in the establishment would be to be able to look up for example when Waimairi County Council, which no longer exists, was fluoridated, and at what level.
    The following only goes back to 2006:
    http://www.drinkingwater.esr.cri.nz/external/documentsall.asp

    How about a decent reference database, please?

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  22. @Ken,
    I don’t blindly search for correlations.
    And if my results prove in favour of fluoridation I report them.

    Blind searching is, I suspect, taking a big table of data and doing cross correlations. At the 5% level one study in 20 would show a significant correlation.

    The next step, as I have given an example of, as to do partial correlations.

    I explain again:

    Say you correlate preachers, decile and cancer.

    Get 3 results PD PC and DC correlations.

    Then use a recipe of which several calculators are available combining those 3 correlations in a way which suggests what the correlation might have been had the third variable not been changing.

    Say PD with C held constant.

    If PD(C) is no different from PD that means C is not causal.

    If PD(C) tends to zero that means the PD result was spurious.

    All the football fluoridation stuff I have reported was first try and I have not cherry picked.

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  23. When I was a kid we moved from the city that had fluoridated water out to the country and had well water. My dentist gave me chewable fluoride tabs that you are supposed to swish around in your mouth like mouth wash and then spit out. The bottle they were is said in big bold letters “DO NOT SWALLOW.” So why was it ok to swallow the fluoride in the drinking water but not the fluoride in the tabs? Seems contradictory. Imo fluoride should be in toothpaste so it gets on your teeth where its supposed to be. Not in drinking water.

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  24. Brandon, I have covered this question of topical and ingested fluoride in quite a few articles. Have a look throught them on Fluoridation.

    Research indicates that while fluoridated toothpaste is effective it actually does not substitute for F in water. In fact fluoride intake via food and water is complementary to use of F toothpaste. This is because the surface mechanism inhibiting decay in existing teeth relies on F in saliva and surface biofilms on the teeth. The concentration of F in saliva increase on brushing, or ingestion of food and water. However, the concentrationd drops to ineffective levels rather quickly – within an hour. So toothbrushing cannot maintian effective concentrations during the whole day and fluoridated water comes into its own.

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