A new study has found that while people may trust health tweets made by doctors who have a large number of followers, they have trouble accepting the messages that are retweeted by doctors but are created by someone else.
A study of the credibility of health messages on Twitter showed that credibility dips when doctors who have a large number of Twitter followers passed on messages, instead of composing their own tweets, said Ji Young Lee, a former master's degree student in media studies, Penn State.When non-medical professionals with a lot of Twitter followers forward messages about health on Twitter, however, their followers tend to find those messages more credible."Our study results imply that people may perceive tweets and retweets differently depending on the source of the content," said Lee, who is now a doctoral student in communication at Ohio State. "They do care about whether a message is originally created by someone or retweeted by someone, as well as whether the source is a professional and popular."A tweet is a message that is 140 characters or less that a user posts on Twitter, the popular microblogging site. When a Twitter user forwards a post from another person, it is called a retweet.
The study, which appears online ahead of its publication in the journal Health Communication, shows how people infer credibility and trust based on certain cues, said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, who worked with Lee on the study."It does show that people are aware of all of these cues," said Sundar. "And they are likely to use all three cues -- bandwagon, authority and proximity -- when they're reviewing online health communications."The authority cue indicates the source's reputation for expertise and bandwagon is a cue that suggests how popular the source is. Proximity refers to whether the content is original -- a tweet -- or forwarded information -- a retweet. A total of 63 undergraduate college students took part in the study and were asked to follow the Twitter accounts of either a doctor with many followers, the same doctor with a few followers, a layperson with many followers, or a layperson with a few followers.The researchers added information to the Twitter accounts of these four fictitious sources to suggest the cues.