Objectives: In an antifluoridation case study, we explored digital pandemics and the social spread of scientifically inaccurate health information across the Web, and we considered the potential health effects.
Methods: Using the social networking site Facebook and the open source applications Netvizz and Gephi, we analyzed the connectedness of antifluoride networks as a measure of social influence, the social diffusion of information based on conversations about a sample scientific publication as a measure of spread, and the engagement and sentiment about the publication as a measure of attitudes and behaviors.
Results: Our study sample was significantly more connected than was the social networking site overall (P<.001). Social diffusion was evident; users were forced to navigate multiple pages or never reached the sample publication being discussed 60% and 12% of the time, respectively. Users had a 1 in 2 chance of encountering negative and nonempirical content about fluoride unrelated to the sample publication.
Conclusions: Network sociology may be as influential as the information content and scientific validity of a particular health topic discussed using social media. Public health must employ social strategies for improved communication management.