Countering unscientific claims on social media

Professor Kevin O’Brien will be addressing BOC2018 on the topic of social media.  The title of his talk is Social media-based orthodontics.  His departure point is that orthodontic organisations and their members should be using their channels to counteract the effect of unscientific claims and they should especially be targeting the young.

This blog provides background information on social media and  how the young are using it.  Ofcom (1), the communications regulator, has undertaken a survey examining social media use and attitudes.  Here are some findingxs presented as bullet points:

Social media profile and use

Nine in ten children aged 15 have a social media profile.

Nominations for Snapchat as the main social media site or app have doubled, from 16% in 2016 to 32% in 2017

Facebook continues to be the most used social media site or app for 12-15-year-olds - but has more than halved in the last four 


Three quarters of 12-15 year-olds have a profile on a social media or messaging site or app.

Among those with a social media profile, 12-15s are less likely than in 2016 to use Facebook (74 v. 82%) and more likely to use 

WhatsApp (32 v.24%)

32% of 12-15 year olds say that Snapchat is their main profile.

Girls aged 12-15 are more likely than boys to have their main profile on Snapchat while boys aged 12-15 are more likely to say their 

main profile is on YouTube.

One in ten 12-15 year old has shared their own live-streamed videos

A quarter of internet users aged 12-15 have engaged in online civic activities – like signing a petition or share news stories online

Use and ownership of mobile devices

Girls aged 12-15 say they spend more than 21 hours per week using their mobile hone – nearly 50% more than boys

Use of tablets is increasing in younger children while most teenagers have a Smartphone. The most watched content among users 8-11 and 12-15 is music videos/jokes/pranks and challenges.

One in 5 children aged 3-4 (21%) have their own tablet, an increase from 16% in 2016. This rises to more than 1 in three of 5-7 year-olds and more than half of 8-11s and 12-15s. 93% of 15-year-olds have a Smartphone and 65% have a tablet.

When it comes to entertainment, young people can view 14 different possible channels. Among 12-15-year-old, YouTube is the most recognised content provider from all the 14 channels.

The Office of National Statistics has also produced helpful information on internet access. This showed that in the 16-24 age group, the internet was being used for the following:

Emails 93%

Finding info re goods and services 69%

Social networking 96%

Reading news 74%

Looking for health related information (injury, disease, improving health, nutrition) 52%

Also for travel services, uploading their own content, making video calls, looking for a job, professional networking, selling goods, posting opinion, taking part in online consultations

Rightly, Professor O’Brien argues that social media has a great influence on our methods of gathering information. But the proliferation of marketing opportunities also means that much of the information on the internet can be misleading. How can the uninitiated know what to believe?

The solution, he will argue, is for Orthodontic societies and their members to adapt their information towards the way that patients use social media. We need, he says, to counteract the effect of alternative/unscientific claims

To hear Prof O’Brien enlarge on this important topic, go to the main auditorium in the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre on Thursday 27th at 2.30.

(1) Ofcom:  Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report

Research report published 29 November 2017

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