Social Media, Health, and Wellness: Don’t Believe Everything You See
Social media has become a source of information for millions of people across the world. They stay connected with family and friends and catch up on news and world events. Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms are a part of daily life for many.
Unfortunately, inaccurate and false information spreads quickly online. The topic of health and wellness is no exception. For users, it can be difficult to decide what is true and what isn’t.
Some misinformation can be harmless, but misinformation about health topics can have dangerous results. That’s why it is so important to know the truth, especially when it comes to your health.
How to tell fact from fiction
The good news is there are ways to identify and filter out that misinformation. Follow these tips to be sure you’re getting the truth from social media.
- Be skeptical of new trends or unusual results. It’s hard to scroll through a newsfeed without seeing posts and ads for ways to improve your health. Some promise to help you meet your weight loss goals in record time. Others offer help for arthritis pain. Some may even claim to cure cancer. Many of these products will cost you a lot of money but won’t live up to the promises. Claims that a product can cure a disease or deliver overnight results most likely have no scientific evidence to support them.
- Examine the content and avoid “clickbait.” Watch for spelling and grammatical errors, sensationalism, or emotional language. Many scams or posts with misinformation often have errors or misspellings. Legitimate news sources use a professional tone and articles are double checked for accuracy. Also, be aware of “clickbait.” This term is used to describe a sensational or deceptive headline, photo, or image that encourages users to click a link for more information. Unfortunately, it’s a marketing strategy to get users to a website. Readers are often left frustrated because there is little actual information. A common example of clickbait is “If you have any of these signs, you probably already have cancer.”
- Check the source. No matter what you read online, knowing where the information came from is important. It can help you determine whether it is true. In social media, check the user’s profile or page to see if it’s a verified account with a history of credible posts. Be cautious of unfamiliar or suspicious sources. Be skeptical of generic or misleading names or unknown web addresses. Finally, don’t rely on a single source. Accurate claims are reported by numerous reputable news outlets or authorities. If you’re unsure if the health information you are reading is true, ask your doctor. There are also several websites where you can check facts, including The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Health Organization. You can also check with your local health department.
- Beware of influencers. There are many in the social world who share personal opinions about health and wellness products or trends. They have active social media accounts with lots of followers. Unfortunately, many of these “influencers” lack the right credentials and are not reliable sources. Take an example of a celebrity who posts about her experience with a weight loss drug. Many will believe it simply because of their popularity. When it comes to health advice, it’s best to rely on experts in the field such as doctors, nurses, or nutritionists.
- Examine the date. The web is filled with information that is old or outdated. Be sure what you are reading is current as old news may be incorrect or misleading.
- Don’t believe everything you read. Be skeptical and use a fact checker. There are several websites that can help you check specific claims. Snopes, FactCheck.org, or PolitiFact are all sites that will identify whether something appears true, false, or even partially correct.
- Question your bias. We all have our own beliefs and opinions. Sometimes those personal beliefs can influence your idea of what you are reading. Try to have an open mind about the content on social media. Just because you want to believe something doesn’t mean it’s the truth.
- Be cautious of viral content. Newsfeeds on social media sites are filled with what has become known as viral content. That is information that spreads rapidly when many users share it. While the information is popular, it does not guarantee it is true. That’s why it’s important to check sources. Ask your doctor or use a fact checker, even if it seems like it is widely accepted. Also, a good rule is not to share content unless you have confirmed the information with a reliable source.
- Don’t rely on word of mouth. Many of us tend to rely on the advice of family and friends. We assume what they tell us is true. But it’s important to know where they got their information. They could have fallen for a scam or viral content. Even though you may trust your loved one, be safe and check whether it is true before acting on that advice or sharing the information with others.
Common health scams on social media and how to avoid them
Scams are common in today’s world, especially online. Some promise you can reach your weight loss goals in a month. Others sell human growth hormone as an anti-aging product. Some want you to “detox” and “cleanse” your body. Still, others may try to sell pills, powders, or herbs that “cure” arthritis or cancer.
Anyone can fall for these scams, but many often target the elderly. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that social media and messaging apps are the biggest outlets for health scams. They have a web page dedicated to this topic with more information for consumers. 6 Tip-offs to Rip-offs: Don’t Fall for Health Fraud Scams | FDA
Also, the AARP has an overview of some of the more popular scams. Here Are 14 Top Scams You Should Watch Out for in 2023 (aarp.org) You can even sign up for bi-weekly alerts on the latest scams here. Scam, Fraud Alerts – Protect Your Digital Identity (aarp.org)
What to do with misinformation on social media
When you encounter false information, take steps to keep it from spreading further.
- Be sure to report it to the social media outlet. Each platform allows users to report misinformation with the click of the mouse.
- Block or unfollow unreliable sources.
- Never share posts that contain false or misleading statements.
- Comment on others’ posts that include misinformation and clarify with a link to the truth.
We can all make social networking better by following these tips. Learn more about healthy ways to use social media here. 7 Healthy Habits for Social Media Use | Commonwealth Care Alliance
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