Professor at the Institute of Interactive
Systems and Data Science, TU Graz
20 May 2021
17:00 - 18:00 BST
The Politicisation of Medical Topics on Social Media
Social media brings both opportunities and risks to our society: it can enable networked action and facilitate information sharing but it can also fuel the spread of misinformation and distort public discussions about important scientific and political issues. I will present two empirical studies of social media data that illustrate how medical topics can become heavily politicized on social media. First, I will present the case of the Twitter backlash to the EAT-Lancet report about sustainable diets, a case that illustrates the presence of new political divides in dietary habits. Second, I will present the analysis of Twitter sharing of medical preprints, which shows a sharp increase in both attention and politicization of the discussion around clinical and research documents since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This kind of emergence of political divides in new topics can be explained by a computational model based on cognitive science principles that does not require the existence of filter bubbles or echo chambers. Our research shows how partisan voices can dominate the online discussion on health-related topics, highlighting polarized structures and dormant conflicts that difficult science communication through social media. I discuss these results within a new approach to participatory propaganda and misinformation that focuses on understanding how new ontologies of truth can threaten democratic information spaces.