The Danger of “Fake” Health News

In our modern, highly connected, Internet age, information on virtually every subject is available at our fingertips. Medical information in particular is highly sought after — and easily found. Today, when COVID-19 poses tremendous risk, there is a flood of online information about the virus, and how to protect ourselves.

However, it is extremely important to understand that the majority of information, including medical information, described on the internet is misleading, exaggerated, or just plain untrue. Too often, the information is actually dangerous.

In 2018, Health Feedback, a network of scientists that assesses the credibility of health media coverage, worked with the Credibility Coalition to examine the 100 most popular health articles of the year. They found that three quarters of the articles contained false or misleading information. Other articles lacked context or misstated the potential harm of various conditions. In other cases, it was clear that the data presented was “spun” in order to fit a specific agenda.

The articles examined were from well-known websites, like NPR, and CNN. While people may be aware of the difference in credibility between the Surgeon General’s website and a private “lifestyle” blog, or between the CDC website and an “alternative medicine” website, identifying fake news on news websites can be difficult.

In articles in which the author has an agenda, the false statements are actually intentional. One of the 100 most popular articles concerned mental health disorders, an article in the Guardian, entitled, “Is everything you know about depression wrong?” Nearly 500,000 people read this article, but experts assert that not only was it not credible, it was also potentially dangerous. The article’s author concluded that most cases of depression are not due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, but from a lack of “fulfillment.” There were no sources and no studies that supported this claim. Of the 500,000 people who read it, it is likely that many with clinical depression decided not to seek help.

Another article, which was read by approximately 600,000 people, made the astonishing statement that eating bacon was as harmful as smoking cigarettes. Again, no studies or research articles were mentioned to back up the claim.

These “medical articles,” promulgating fake information, appear on otherwise-credible websites, and are read by hundreds of thousands of people.

The question is why fake news seems to spread more quickly and more deeply than “real” news. The fact is that social media algorithms incentivize this process, according to a report in the highly respected journal Science. Social media algorithms are designed to help a post reach as many people as possible, and false stories often prey on emotions such as fear, disgust, and shock. Since stories of this type can be especially appealing to readers, they are widely shared.

One can only imagine the damage “fake” news about Coronavirus could cause.

Although several websites, for example Facebook, have vowed to crack down on fake news, this task has proven difficult. Many of the fans of these articles consider elimination of the articles as an attack on Eastern medicine. In fact, after Facebook deleted 80 such accounts from their website, the Global Freedom Movement immediately demanded that Facebook must give clear reasons for deleting the accounts.

Some of these accounts focusing on natural remedies, organic living; Just Natural Medicine (which has more than 1 million followers), Natural Cures Not Medicine (which has nearly 2.5 million followers), and People’s Awakening (which has more than 3.5 million followers) were among the purged accounts.

The lesson for us is simple and important: just as it is crucial to choose a good doctor, it is crucial to choose a solid source of health news.

Beacon of LIFE, a government-approved PACE program in Oceanport, NJ, was created to provide seniors, their family, caregivers and professional health care providers the flexibility to meet their health care needs while continuing to live in their community.

 

Beacon of LIFE maintains an interdisciplinary team of professionals who give each client the coordinated care they need. Our staff specialize in working with older people, and work with each client and their family to develop the most effective plan of care.

We provide a variety of services, including primary care, hospital care, medical specialty services, prescription drugs, nursing home care, emergency services, home care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, adult day care, recreational therapy, meals, dentistry, nutritional counseling, social services, laboratory / X-ray services, social work counseling, and transportation.

Our care and services allow people who would otherwise need to live in a nursing home to live where they want — in their own communities, in their own homes.

And that’s not #fakenews.

 

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