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Healthy Living

How Misinformation on Social Media Can Affect Your Health

Nov 4 2022

By now, many of us know that you can’t always trust what you read on the internet. But what about social media?

As more people turn to social media for news, the potential for misinformation to spread increases. But how can misinformation on social media affect your health?

Access for all

Social media didn’t create health misinformation. However, the internet made it easier.

Before social media, it took a little work to get something on the internet. You had to have a blog or website to publish your thoughts in order to reach other people, which took more time and effort.

Medical and health misinformation largely began on a smaller scale with social media trends: how to lose weight fast, cancer “cures,” vaccine alternatives and “natural” remedies. However, as people began spending more time on social media and reputable outlets started using the platforms to disseminate their content, it opened the door for misinformation.

Enter the COVID-19 pandemic

While medical misinformation on social media platforms began before COVID-19, this pandemic changed the landscape.

Because COVID-19 was a new virus, medical professionals didn’t know much about it. This often led to confusing messaging about mitigation, prevention and treatment of the disease, which was only made worse by reports of infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths due to its spread.

As the pandemic stretched on, misinformation contributed to people sharing unproven treatments for COVID-19, such as hydroxychloroquine and “off-label” use of ivermectin, as well as stoking high levels of vaccine hesitancy.

Health misinformation on social media today

The legacy of COVID-19’s misinformation has led to social media becoming a haven for fake health treatments and trends. Influencers are portraying off-label uses of prescription medication as miracle cures, leading many of their followers to take them. However, many of these medications carry the potential for side effects, which can sometimes be serious or lead to complications.

Not only are side effects an issue for you, but it can also hurt other people. Medications are created to treat specific conditions, and an influx of people requesting medications can lead to a shortage. This means that people who need these medications to treat sometimes serious illnesses will have trouble or be unable to find them.

How you can avoid misinformation on social media

The reason misinformation spreads quickly and easily is that many people have a difficult time discerning real news from “fake news” online. There are dozens of websites that look and sound like real news sources but are unreliable.

Some ways to spot misinformation on social media are:

  • Checking other reliable sources: If you suspect the article you see on social media might be false, see if news outlets are reporting the story as well.
  • Consider the source: Does the article or influencer cite any reliable sources, such as experts, news articles or medical journals to back up their claims?
  • Use a fact-checking site: There are several trusted websites that fact-check trending stories. Some popular ones include Snopes, PolitiFact, Fact Check and BBC Reality Check.

If you’re still unsure, reach out to your primary care provider. They can help clear up any confusion you may have regarding medical information online.

Learn about the primary care services we offer at Mercy Health.

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