Women's Health (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS -

We tell you how to spot a bo­gus med­i­cal news story when you see one.

So, clearly we made those up. But fake news is on the rise and isn’t al­ways easy to spot… and be­liev­ing what you read could be dan­ger­ous. Even deadly. WH health edi­tor Tracy Mid­dle­ton gives a crash course in busting bo­gus med­i­cal info.

In the past year, I’ve got­ten more ques­tions from friends and ac­quain­tances about health head­lines they saw on­line than I ever have be­fore. Can waist train­ers re­ally shrink love han­dles? Tak­ing an­tibi­otics for a cold is okay, right? OMG, do I re­ally not need to floss? I’m no doc­tor, but as the health edi­tor for Women’s Health, my friends know my BS me­ter for du­bi­ous well­ness facts is pretty re­fined. (For the record, my an­swers were: no, no, and I wish, but no.)

These are savvy, ed­u­cated women, but they ex­pect that when a head­line is shared by some­one they know and trust, it’s le­git. Or, if it comes from a re­spected news out­let, that it’s been rig­or­ously factchecked and not ex­ag­ger­ated. Yet in­creas­ingly, that’s not al­ways the case. Dis­hon­est and mis­lead­ing health news, es­pe­cially news found on­line, has risen in lock­step with other fake head­lines and is of­ten shared more of­ten than ev­i­dence-based re­ports, ac­cord­ing to an analysis in The Independent. Re­searchers found that of the 20 most­shared ar­ti­cles on Face­book in 2016 that in­cluded “can­cer” in the head­line, more than half of their claims had been dis­cred­ited by health au­thor­i­ties. And three of the most shared and liked sto­ries about HPV (hu­man pa­pil­lo­mavirus) had been de­bunked.

The 24/7 news cy­cle—and the abil­ity to add our own take onto what we read and hear via so­cial me­dia—has am­pli­fied the spread of dodgy health in­for­ma­tion, says Janet John­son, PHD, a so­cial me­dia scholar and clin­i­cal as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Texas at Dal­las. “There are cred­i­ble sites that will tell you about a new study with­out sen­sa­tion­al­is­ing it, but those get lost amid the noise of clicky head­lines, which are shared more of­ten,” notes John­son. That’s a mas­sive prob­lem, since nearly 90 per­cent of peo­ple say they would trust or act on health in­for­ma­tion they read on so­cial me­dia, yet re­search shows 60 per­cent of links shared are passed along by peo­ple who haven’t read the con­tent them­selves. Yikes.

Fake health news is most per­va­sive around is­sues that con­ven­tional medicine hasn’t yet de­liv­ered a cure or quick fix for, such as can­cer, lower-back pain and in­fer­til­ity, says David Colquhoun, PHD, a pro­fes­sor of phar­ma­col­ogy at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don, whose blog ex­poses shady health sto­ries. His the­ory of why peo­ple are so apt to be­lieve false claims: “Some peo­ple, and even some doc­tors, pre­fer hope to no hope.”

The re­sults of fol­low­ing on­line health ad­vice can range from rel­a­tively be­nign (eat­ing more of a spe­cific food pur­ported to has­ten weight loss) to life-threat­en­ing (tak­ing a supplement in­stead of un­der­go­ing chemo­ther­apy to erad­i­cate can­cer).

The crack­down on false news is gain­ing steam. Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg has promised to com­bat fake news of all types, and in Jan­uary, Google banned nearly 200 pub­lish­ers for spread­ing mis­lead­ing info. But the tools you need to en­sure your health head­lines are true al­ready ex­ist. I use them— and so can you.

Cred­i­ble sites that don’t sen­sa­tion­alise a new study get lost amid clicky head­lines.


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