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Study finds Twitter robots spread false claims about the health benefits of cannabis

Analysis of theAmerican Journal of Public Health of tens of thousands of cannabis-related messages on Twitter found that social robots routinely perpetuate false health claims on the platform, illustrating how false claims can stifle solid science on social media.

According to researchers at the University of Southern California, false allegations made in the thousands of robot publications on Twitter deny scientific facts about cannabis.

To the study, the research team sampled cannabis-related tweets posted weekly between May 2018 and December 2018. Then they sorted the tweets generated by social bots versus those from non-bot accounts using a research called Botomètre which analyzes the characteristics of a Twitter account and gives it a score based on the probability that the account is a bot

They then coded the tweets into 12 categories, including first use, health and medical, legality, processed products such as food and the use of cannabis in conjunction with alcohol, pain relievers and psychedelics.

"Fake news"

"What we found was that the proportion of robot stations that talked about health claims was higher than the proportion of non-bot accounts," said Patricia Escobedo, doctoral student and co-author of the study. Escobedo added that they did not find a single reference to scientifically proven uses of cannabis, such as medicines to treat epilepsy in children, in their data.

Jon-Patrick Allem: lead author of the study

"We are in a period of time where these misleading messages are ubiquitous online," said Jon-Patrick Allem, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "We want the public to be aware of the difference between proven and scientifically supported health information and claims that are simply fabricated."

According to researchers at the University of Southern California, publications by social robots have suggested that cannabis can help solve a range of health problems, including cancer, plantar fasciitis and Crohn's disease, among others.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only approves medical use of cannabis in a small number of cases, including helping to relieve nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, and stimulating appetite in conditions like AIDS or HIV that cause weight loss, and for the management of two forms of pediatric epilepsy. But according to Jon Patrick Allem, author of the main study:

The concern is that any online chat about the beneficial qualities of cannabis will have offline consequences, ultimately influencing attitudes and behaviors, said Allem, lead author of the study published in the American Journal of Public Health

"The next step will be to examine the levels of exposure and beliefs reported by those affected by these claims, as well as the perceived risks and benefits of cannabis use, intentions to use and actual consumption. "

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