How fake medical news is SERIOUSLY damaging our health: From vaccines and heart pills to cancer drugs and diets, as experts report a rise in misinformation online, a special investigation tackles the dangerous myths threatening our health
'We are living in an era of fake news: false, often sensational information spread under the guise of legitimate reporting. The term, almost unheard of until recently, is perhaps most strongly associated with President Trump, who uses it to dismiss pretty much any allegation thrown at him. But it is not just in politics where the lines between truth and lies are increasingly blurred.
In almost every medical sphere, from vaccines and heart health to cancer drugs and diet, experts have reported a huge increase in misinformation online, which at best obfuscates the truth and at worst contradicts it entirely.
Professor Heidi Larson, a public health expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, describes fake health news as ‘bad science’, often spread by those who capitalise on doubts over standard therapies to make a profit from books, supplements and alternative services.
To add to this, complex scientific research is often poorly translated in the social media sphere, while legitimate sources of information are mixed up with quackery.
A recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows we are 70 per cent more likely to share falsehoods on social media than facts. This is because nonsense stories are intrinsically ‘novel’, and so prick our interest.
Public Health England told The Mail on Sunday it was ‘concerned’ about the amount of health-related fake news online. Meanwhile, the Government is expected to publish a White Paper later this year on reforms to internet and social media laws. This is urgently needed. Half of us admit to turning to social media rather than medical professionals for advice on health problems. And just last week, a survey revealed a 9,000 per cent rise in the past three years in internet searches relating to serious symptoms.
Technology giants may, at last, have recognised their responsibilities: Google, Facebook and Twitter bosses last month signed a pledge to fight the spread of fake news. Google also claims to ‘prioritise high-quality results from authoritative sources for health queries’.
But a quick search doesn’t install much faith. Type in ‘cancer cures’ and what do you get? A Wikipedia page, followed by a website advocating the benefits of juices.'
Read more: How fake medical news is SERIOUSLY damaging our health: From vaccines and heart pills to cancer drugs and diets, as experts report a rise in misinformation online, a special investigation tackles the dangerous myths threatening our health
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