Online information on face masks: analysis of websites in Italian and English returned by different search engines

Mehta, Shaily, Ghezzi, Daria, Catalani, Alessia, Vanzolini, Tania and Ghezzi, Pietro (2021) Online information on face masks: analysis of websites in Italian and English returned by different search engines. BMJ Open, 11. e046364 1-8. ISSN 2044-6055

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Objective: Countries have major differences in the acceptance of face mask use for the prevention of COVID-19. This work aims at studying the information online in different countries in terms of information quality and content.

Design: Content analysis.

Method: We analysed 450 webpages returned by searching the string ‘are face masks dangerous’ in Italy, the UK and the USA using three search engines (Bing, Duckduckgo and Google) in August 2020. The type of website and the stance about masks were assessed by two raters for each language and inter-rater agreement reported as Cohen’s kappa. The text of the webpages was collected from the web using WebBootCaT and analysed using a corpus analysis software to identify issues mentioned.

Results: Most pages were news outlets, and few (2%–6%) from public health agencies. Webpages with a negative stance on masks were more frequent in Italian (28%) than English (19%). Google returned the highest number of mask-positive pages and Duckduckgo the lowest. Google also returned the lowest number of pages mentioning conspiracy theories and Duckduckgo the highest. Webpages in Italian scored lower than those in English in transparency (reporting authors, their credentials and backing the information with references). When issues about the use of face masks were analysed, mask effectiveness was the most discussed followed by hypercapnia (accumulation of carbon dioxide), contraindication in respiratory disease and hypoxia, with issues related to their contraindications in mental health conditions and disability mentioned by very few pages.

Conclusions: This study suggests that: (1) public health agencies should increase their web presence in providing correct information on face masks; (2) search engines should improve the information quality criteria in their ranking; (3) the public should be more informed on issues related to the use of masks and disabilities, mental health and stigma arising for those people who cannot wear masks.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: COVID-19, journalism (see medical journalism), public health, world wide web technology, COVID-19, Humans, Internet, Italy, Language, Masks, SARS-CoV-2, Search Engine
Schools and Departments: Brighton and Sussex Medical School > Brighton and Sussex Medical School
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2021 14:18
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2021 14:30

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