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Assessing the Credibility and Authenticity of Social Media Content for Applications in Health Communication: Scoping Review

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Authors: Ms Eva L. Jenkins, A/Prof Jasmina Ilicic, Ms Amy M. Barklamb & Dr Tracy A. McCaffrey.

Background: Nutrition science is currently facing issues regarding the public’s perception of its credibility, with social media (SM) influencers increasingly becoming a key source for nutrition-related information with high engagement rates. Source credibility and, to an extent, authenticity have been widely studied in marketing and communications but have not yet been considered in the context of nutrition or health communication. Thus, an investigation into the factors that impact perceived source and message credibility and authenticity is of interest to inform health communication on SM.

Objective: This study aims to explore the factors that impact message and source credibility (which includes trustworthiness and expertise) or authenticity judgments on SM platforms to better inform nutrition science SM communication best practices.

Methods: A total of 6 databases across a variety of disciplines were searched in March 2019. The inclusion criteria were experimental studies, studies focusing on microblogs, studies focusing on healthy adult populations, and studies focusing on either source credibility or authenticity. Exclusion criteria were studies involving participants aged under 18 years and clinical populations, gray literature, blogs, WeChat conversations, web-based reviews, non-English papers, and studies not involving participants’ perceptions.

Results: Overall, 22 eligible papers were included, giving a total of 25 research studies. Among these studies, Facebook and Twitter were the most common SM platforms investigated. The most effective communication style differed depending on the SM platform. Factors reported to impact credibility included language used online, expertise heuristics, and bandwagon heuristics. No papers were found that assessed authenticity.

Conclusions: Credibility and authenticity are important concepts studied extensively in the marketing and communications disciplines; however, further research is required in a health context. Instagram is a less-researched platform in comparison with Facebook and Twitter.