Over the last few decades, the internet has revolutionised all parts of life; health and fitness were no exception. The internet and social media have had—and continue to have—a strong influence on the spread of health-related information. However, this influence hasn’t been entirely positive.
The internet has enabled broader and instant access to health education. With a few clicks, you can use a search engine to find answers to most questions that you can conceive. Even if you’re not specifically looking, you’re often inundated with information, pictures and videos on social media.
A significant problem with the internet is that you’re more likely to run into misinformation than accurate scientific information.
Misinformation is often more interesting, simplistic and sensationalised. In contrast, accurate information can be uninteresting, nuanced and more difficult to understand. Most importantly, misinformation is based on biased, weak or no evidence, while accurate information based on stronger evidence.
What makes misinformation dangerous is that people who spread false information are often doing so unknowingly. In addition, misinformation tends to spread faster than accurate information.
Remember that it’s easy to confuse popularity with credibility on social media. For example, there’s a greater inclination to trust posts 'approved' by many others in the form of likes, comments, etc. Likewise, content creators can appear more trustworthy if they’re personable, well-spoken, convincing and have a gargantuan following.
In healthcare, misinformation is problematic if it delays or prevents people from receiving the best care available. In some situations, this has the potential to endanger people’s lives.
So, be sceptical of what you see and hear, and be careful of what you share.
- Wang et al. (2019) (PMID: 31561111)
- Image source - howtostartablogonline.net