Contrasting Misinformation and Real-Information Dissemination Network Structures on Social Media During a Health Emergency*

Safarnejad et al.

Original English article published in the American Journal of Public Health:


To provide a comprehensive workflow to identify top influential health misinformation about Zika on Twitter in 2016, reconstruct information dissemination networks of retweeting, contrast mis- from real information on various metrics, and investigate how Zika misinformation proliferated on social media during the Zika epidemic.


We systematically reviewed the top 5 000 English-language Zika tweets, established an evidence-based definition of “misinformation,” identified misinformation tweets, and matched a comparable group of real-information tweets. We developed an algorithm to reconstruct retweeting networks for 266 misinformation and 458 comparable real-information tweets. We computed and compared 9 network metrics characterizing network structure across various levels between the 2 groups.


There were statistically significant differences in all 9 network metrics between real and misinformation groups. Misinformation network structures were generally more sophisticated than those in the real-information group. There was substantial within-group variability, too.


 Dissemination networks of Zika misinformation differed substantially from real information on Twitter, indicating that misinformation utilized distinct dissemination mechanisms from real information. Our study will lead to a more holistic understanding of health misinformation challenges on social media.

Article's language
American Journal of Public Health
Original research