Positive attitudes toward water fluoridation are growing on Twitter, where the number of supporters has grown from zero to 19% in five years, according to the British Fluoridation Society (BFS). However, the BFS said, opposition has remained constant on Facebook.
Researchers compared identical studies analyzing social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook from 2015 and 2021 examining the public’s perception of water fluoridation as expressed on social media. Accounts were divided into supportive, anti, or neutral groups.
The BFS noted that libertarians oppose the addition of fluoride and other chemicals such as chlorine that prevent disease like cholera and typhoid to drinking water supplies. Most healthcare organizations, particularly dental groups, support universal measures designed to improve health, the BFS continued.
BFS member Rebecca Linney launched the 2015 study as part of her dental degree to understand how campaigners were using social media. She said she was fascinated by the subject because she comes from Liverpool, where water is not fluoridated, but studied dentistry in Birmingham, which is fluoridated.
As both a Liverpool resident and practicing dentist, Linney said, she strongly believes that her local water supply should be fluoridated. In March 2021, she repeated the study to test whether there had been a change in perceptions.
According to her study, 19% of Twitter accounts featuring water fluoridation support the public health measure, whereas in 2015 there were no accounts supportive of water fluoridation at all. Also, the study found that:
- Facebook continues to be the platform where there is the most negativity around water fluoridation.
- The number of oppositional water fluoridation pages on Facebook has increased, but the number of oppositional water fluoridation groups has decreased.
- There are more pro-fluoridation events on Facebook.
- There are fewer Twitter accounts that could be described as uncategorized or neutral in relation to water fluoridation.
“I was particularly interested to see that there are more events supporting water fluoridation listed on Facebook, indicative of an upsurge of commitment to promoting water fluoridation,” Linney said.
“I can also see that there is now more support on Twitter thanks to the British Fluoridation Society, Public Health England, the Oral Health Foundation, and many other organizations using their accounts to post informative statements and links,” she said.
“This paper highlights how important it is to continue to communicate clear and scientific statements about water fluoridation. The fact is, unless we keep active on social media, opponents will fill that vacuum,” said BFS chair Barry Cockcroft. “This is a most valuable piece of work.”
The study, “A Comparison of the Public’s Perception of Water Fluoridation Based on Social Media Posts Between June 2015 and March 2021,” was published by the BFS.