How to Recognize and Avoid Misinformation About Chronic Disease
Health misinformation not only spreads more quickly in the internet, but the content itself is becoming more sophisticated, making it harder to identify those that are fake.
Many of us continue to use social media and digital news outlets as our primary sources of information. Unfortunately, a lot of the content we encounter can be fake or misleading and is aimed at creating confusion to take advantage of chronic disease patients by promoting phony or unverified cures.
Watch the Video: How to Recognize and Avoid Misinformation About Chronic Disease
The Challenge Behind Misinformation
The spread of false health-related information is not new. However, this viral spread of misinformation on digital platforms is of particular concern within the health care community because it’s so difficult to contain and mitigate its effects.
Fake content often targets patients’ emotions, especially fear and hope. When we internalize emotionally driven information, facts no longer have the same validity, and therefore, even if we learn that a piece of information is false or inaccurate, we still, to some extent, believe it.
Tackling Health Misinformation
The backlash against social media platforms regarding their role in spreading misinformation has led to some improvements, but these aren’t enough to eradicate the problem.
As users, we must also learn to distinguish fake content from that which is verified. Here are some ways you can protect yourself and help prevent the spread of misinformation.
Look Out for Highly Exaggerated Language
One of the first telltale signs of fake health-related information is the language used.
When you come across an article on social media or the internet that claims they have exclusive information regarding new medical research that is “revolutionary” or a “scientific breakthrough,” be cautious as the use of these words can often be a red flag.
Science advances every day, and breakthroughs are possible, but they don’t happen as often as we would like, and when they do, they are likely to be a major news event.
Be particularly wary of anyone claiming to have a proven cure for chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, IBD, asthma, or lupus.
Be Mindful of Conspiracy Theories
Many individuals and organizations are trying to pray on patients by using conspiracy theories.
The best way to identify these are by the language used. For example, watch out for phrases such as “the secret pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know,” “here’s what your doctor won’t tell you,” and “the reason the government kept this quiet.”
That is conspiratorial language and a clear sign that what you are reading is false information. Also, look out for echo chambers or sites where opposing views aren’t allowed.
Lack of Credentials
Stay clear of any health-related content provided by individuals with little or no relevant medical expertise.
When reading studies, the first thing to look for is if the research was peer-reviewed or vetted by an independent panel of experts. If it isn’t, then there is no way to know the quality of the research, the methodologies used, and whether the findings are accurate.
Content That Preys on Your Emotions
Some stories are emotional, therefore, having an emotional reaction to them is expected. However, content that specifically targets one or more of our emotions, like fear, and hope can be a marketing tactic to get us to buy a product.
Be wary of any content that makes you feel anxious or think you will miss an opportunity to cure your condition if you don’t act now.
Only Rely on Verified Sources of Information
When reading news materials from a source you are not familiar with, it’s always good to learn a little about them.
If you have the name of the author, check their credentials. If the article is from a news outlet you don’t know, look for reviews and references. Also, check to see if mainstream media news outlets have similar pieces to validate the information you are reading.
Speak with your Doctor
When it comes to health-related content, the best approach is to always speak with your healthcare provider. Don’t start taking any new medications or changing your diet without first consulting your doctor, as these may not be advisable for your condition.