Sharing sensitive health information through social media in the Arab world



Asiri E, Khalifa M, Shabir SA, Hossain MN, Iqbal U, Househ M.


Int J Qual Health Care. 2017 Feb 1;29(1):68-74. doi: 10.1093/intqhc/mzw137.


BACKGROUND: Sharing daily activities on social media has become a part of our lifestyle, but little is known about sharing sensitive health information in the Arab world. OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study is to explore how social media users in the Arab world share sensitive health information through Facebook. DESIGN: A retrospective qualitative analysis was used in the study. SETTINGS AND PARTICIPANTS: A total of 110 Facebook groups, related to HIV, sickle cell and depression were screened between 5 June and 1 December 2014. RESULTS: Forty four Facebook groups met the inclusion criteria. 28 471 posts were extracted, of which 649 met inclusion criteria. Forty two percent of health information exchanged were related to HIV, 34% to depression and 24% to sickle cell diseases. The majority of postings were from Egypt 21.1%, Saudi Arabia 20%, Algeria 10% and Libya 9.2%. Male posts were 54.2% while 45.8% were posted by females. Individuals utilized Facebook groups to share personal experiences of their disease 31%, in addition to being used for seeking queries 13.6%, offering explicit advice 8.3%, reporting signs and symptoms of the disease 7.3% and posting their communication with the health-care provider 6.6%. CONCLUSIONS: Users in the Arab world use social media to exchange sensitive health information, which could have serious implications regarding the privacy of the information shared with other members of the group. On the other hand, sharing health information could have positive effects for patients, such as sharing disease experiences and peer support. However, more work is needed to ensure that Facebook users in the Arab world are aware of the potential consequences of sharing sensitive health information through social media. CI – © The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press in association with the International Society for Quality in Health Care. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:

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Link/DOI: 10.1093/intqhc/mzw137