SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCE – Tackling contraceptive misinformation on social media

BMJ 29 February 2024.

The involvement of social media in healthcare messaging is becoming increasingly prevalent. The effect on vaccinations is clear. But less attention has been given to the role of social media in contraceptive decision making in women and girls and how to tackle this.

Over the past 10 years the abortion rate in Scotland has increased from 11 per 1000 women to 16 per 1000 women, with a substantial 19% rise between 2021 and 2022; similar growth has been observed in England. The driving factors for this are complex and multifactorial, not dissimilar to vaccine uptake, and include barriers in access to contraception, workforce related variables, and the rollout of medical abortions. One key element is social media. The public are turning to social media as a trusted source of health information, where they receive factual and inaccurate information on contraceptive methods, side effects, and health benefits.

Research shows a rise in “hormone phobia” spurred on by social media and a propensity towards natural family planning apps as advocated by social media influencers. Although this is not the sole driver of the rise in abortion rates, national routine data show reductions in use of the combined contraceptive pill and uptake of long acting reversible contraception.

Qualitative research during the pandemic also highlighted the rise in mistrust of data delivered through healthcare and the emphasis that young women and girls in particular place on healthcare information delivered through social media.

Unlike vaccine hesitancy, there has been little research on how best to combat contraceptive misinformation and promote reliable and effective methods of contraception. Ruggeri and colleagues provide a good starting point for thinking about how behavioural interventions to reduce vaccine hesitancy can be implemented in other areas, such as contraception. [A subscription is needed to read further. Editor]