written by

Annie Collum, BSN, RN

Annie Collum, BSN, RN is the RIA Senior Manager, Physician Liaison in Denver, Colorado

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April 9, 2019

HEALTH WARNING: Misinformation is hazardous to your health.

Yes, the internet gives us access to answers anytime, day or night.

But, are the answers we get accurate?

Regardless of your political leanings, fake news is a real problem. According to a BuzzFeed News analysis, in the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories shared on Facebook generated more engagement than those from major news outlets. On Twitter, inaccuracies are more than 70 percent more likely to be shared than factual articles (and bots aren’t to blame.)

It’s not just politics or celebrity death hoaxes, either. Health news is also impacted by this phenomenon.

In a report released last month, scientists found that 75% of the of the top 10 most-shared health articles on Facebook, 75% were either misleading or included some false information.

This can lead to making ill-informed decisions about our health. And that’s dangerous.

So, how do we know if that meme from Uncle Joe is a pack of lies, or that article our cubicle-mate forwarded is the real-deal?

“It is difficult to know if what you are reading is true or fake,” says Todd Kooy, MD. “Keep in mind, any research you do can, and should, be discussed with your physician or specialist.”

While social media platforms are taking steps to curb the spread of false information, we still have a responsibility to be an informed audience.

Nishant Patel, MD, MBA points out the difficulty we face when relying on traditional, major news outlets: “Major news networks are supported by their readership/viewership, so news from these sources should be taken with a grain of salt. Often times they will ignore salient counter-points based on medical evidence because that does not make as interesting of a story.”

What about publicly available sources, like Medscape and WebMD? These sites are vetted by medical professionals and are more evidence-based, and are therefore good choices for fact-based information. Dr. Kooy recommends visiting the Center for Disease Control site for accurate information.

We all know that internet searches can lead us down a dark rabbit hole, even when the information you find is accurate.

“For more detailed information, I would always discuss the issue with your physician. Many of the issues in the news are new information, and your physician can use trusted medical sources (such as journals, medical specialists) to vet the information and obtain a more complete picture,” says Dr. Patel.