Identifying and Analyzing Health-Related Themes in Disinformation Shared by Conservative and Liberal Russian Trolls on Twitter

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Feb 23;18(4):2159. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18042159.


To combat health disinformation shared online, there is a need to identify and characterize the prevalence of topics shared by trolls managed by individuals to promote discord. The current literature is limited to a few health topics and dominated by vaccination. The goal of this study is to identify and analyze the breadth of health topics discussed by left (liberal) and right (conservative) Russian trolls on Twitter. We introduce an automated framework based on mixed methods including both computational and qualitative techniques. Results suggest that Russian trolls discussed 48 health-related topics, ranging from diet to abortion. Out of the 48 topics, there was a significant difference (p-value ≤ 0.004) between left and right trolls based on 17 topics. Hillary Clinton's health during the 2016 election was the most popular topic for right trolls, who discussed this topic significantly more than left trolls. Mental health was the most popular topic for left trolls, who discussed this topic significantly more than right trolls. This study shows that health disinformation is a global public health threat on social media for a considerable number of health topics. This study can be beneficial for researchers who are interested in political disinformation and health monitoring, communication, and promotion on social media by showing health information shared by Russian trolls.

Keywords: Twitter; disinformation; health; text mining; topic modeling; trolls.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Politics
  • Public Health
  • Russia
  • Social Media*
  • Vaccination