New Study Claims Social Media Spreads Misinformation About Marijuana

By John Lavitt 08/06/14

An examination of social media outlets revealed how pro-weed sentiments spread and negative opinions were barely shared.

young man smoking pot.jpg

According to a new study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), social media has been doling out misinformation about the effects and dangers of marijuana use.

Social media sites, particularly Twitter, often provide young people with misinformation about the effects of marijuana use from anonymous sources. The anonymity of outlets like Twitter, for example, has aggravated the problem by removing the ability to validate the source of any information presented.

A major problem has been that people, particularly teenagers, tend to believe most things they read on the Internet. Focusing their analysis on a specific Twitter handle, the NIDA report analyzed both the content and the demographic reach of a popular pro-pot Twitter handle (@stillblazingtho) in 2013. Not surprisingly, the study found that only 10% of the flood of Twitter messages mentioned any actual risks associated with marijuana use.

A total of 2,590 tweets were sent from the account during the eight-month analysis period. The 305 tweets that were replies to another Twitter user were excluded from the study. Of the remaining 2,285 tweets, 82.06% were positive about marijuana, 17.64% were neutral, and less than 1% were negative.

With over one million followers, the reach of the Twitter account is impressive. Since the number of followers tends to provide a mystique of legitimacy to a Twitter handle, the misinformation doled out is believed to be enthusiastically accepted by followers.

What is disturbing about the findings is the simple truth that 70% of the handle’s followers were aged 19 or younger. Among people 17 to 19 years old, the handle was in the top 10% of all Twitter handles followed. The NIDA noted that since this age group is using social media at increased rates, “these findings underscore the importance of monitoring sites that focus on drug use and to use this information to develop strategic prevention efforts.”

As a teen, it is important to know the risks of using marijuana including addiction, cognitive impairments and the dangers of driving while intoxicated. The study concluded, “Young people are especially responsive to social media influences and often establish substance use patterns during this phase of development. Our findings underscore the need for surveillance efforts to monitor the pro-marijuana content reaching young people on Twitter.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.