Community water fluoridation online: an analysis of the digital media ecosystem

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Abstract

Objectives:

Research demonstrates the safety and efficacy of community water fluoridation (CWF). Yet, the digitization of communication has triggered the spread of inaccurate information online. The purpose of this study was to analyze patterns of CWF information dissemination by a network of sources on the web.

Methods:

We used Media Cloud, a searchable big data platform of over 550 million stories from 50 thousand sources, along with tools to analyze that archive. We generated a network of fluoridation publishers using Media Cloud's keyword identification from August 1, 2015 to July 31, 2016. We defined the media type and sentiment toward CWF for each source and generated a network map of the most influential sources during our study period based on hyperlinking activity.

Results:

Media Cloud detected a total of 980 stories from 325 different sources related to water fluoridation. We identified nine different media types participating in the dissemination of information: academic, government, scientific group, natural medicine, blogs, mainstream media, advocacy groups, user-generated (e.g., YouTube), and “other.” We detected five sub-networks within the overall fluoridation network map, each with its own characteristics. Twenty-one percent of sources were pro-fluoridation, receiving 57 percent of all inlinks, 22 percent of sources were anti-fluoridation, and the rest were neutral (54 percent).

Conclusions:

The dominant neutral sentiment of the network may signify that anti- and pro-sides of the debate are viewed as balanced, not just in number but also in quality of information. Despite high inlinks to pro-sources, anti-fluoridation sentiment maintains influence online.

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