It can be difficult to keep up with information about new and evolving healthcare issues, like the COVID-19 pandemic. With so many available sources for news, theories or opinions, it can be easy to become confused about what is credible information and what is incorrect information. False or misleading information about diseases, illnesses, potential treatments and cures, vaccines, diets, or surgeries can cause people to make decisions that could have dangerous consequences. This type of misinformation or “fake health news” can spread through communities, among families and friends, on social media and other internet sites, or through publications and television programs.
It is important to remember that credible health and medical information involves rigorous research and complex science. Recommendations and government guidance may change as research continues. This can mean even “official” advice from a few months ago might be out of date. When we rely on friends or internet searches for the best information, we might inadvertently be putting ourselves in harm’s way. Fake health news harms individuals and communities, but it can be stopped by learning how to critically evaluate information.
Misinformation or disinformation?
According to the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, “Misinformation is information that is false, inaccurate, or misleading according to the best available evidence at the time. This content is often posted on the internet or shared via text messages or emails. But it’s not something that only happens online. Misinformation can also come in the form of false, misleading or conspiratorial claims made in speeches, via pamphlets or posters, by news outlets, or in advertisements.” Misinformation is often innocently shared by people who do not know the claims, images or videos are false or misleading. They may desire to share this material to help others and be unaware that they are actually hurting people.
“Misinformation can sometimes be spread intentionally to serve a malicious purpose, such as to trick people into believing something for financial gain or political advantage. This is usually called ‘disinformation,’” according to the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General.
Types of misinformation
- Memes (fun, colorful images or graphics) that were created as a joke, However, people may reshare them thinking they are true.
- Cherry-picked statistics. People will choose the number that supports what they want to argue. However, without all the data, they haven’t provided all the context.
- Websites that look professional (often designed to look like news sites) but the stories are all false or misleading. They have sensational headlines designed to make people click on them.
- Quotations where the beginning or end have been deleted to change the meaning. The person did say part of the quotation, but without the full context it’s not a fair representation of what they said.
- Old images that are recirculated as if they are actually very recent.
- Videos that have been edited to change the meaning.
- Misleading graphs or diagrams that look official but don’t tell the whole story.
When you encounter health-related content or news you are not sure about, it is important to think critically about the information to avoid being led astray or spreading misinformation. Use the following guidelines to evaluate the content.
- Examine the source. Where did the information originally come from? For websites, did you look at the “About Us” page to see if you can trust the source?
- What is the motive? Is the site, program or person known for misstating facts or rhetoric that aims to skew opinions? Are they just trying to get views/clicks? Are they just looking for anything that supports their own views?
- Check the date. Is the article or social post positioned as recent news, but was actually published months or years ago? Is there updated information available elsewhere from other sources?
- Examine the content. What is being said? Is there an abundance of claims with no real evidence or links to original references? Did you type the content’s claims into a search engine to confirm if it has been verified by a credible source?
- Outside sources. Did you confirm the information with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the Alabama Department of Public Health to see whether there is any information about the claim being made? Did you ask a credible health care professional such as your doctor or nurse if they have any additional information?
- Fact-checking help. Consult a reputable fact-checking website such as FactCheck.org or Snopes.com.
- Uncertain? If you’re not sure, don’t share!
To enrich the lives of others, McGuffey Healthcare is committed to providing our community with helpful healthcare-related information and updates.