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Know the Risks of Social Media Health Advice

Know the Risks of Social Media Health Advice

We found a meme of “Honest Abe” Lincoln online accompanied by the quote, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” Well, a study confirms Abe’s advice—and shows how often it is ignored!

Researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin and Tulane University published a study in the American Journal of Infection Control revealing the most read/most popular posts on Facebook during the initial Zika scare were the least accurate medically, even though the majority of posts about Zika during the study’s one-week window were accurate.

The most popular post was a false one claiming that birth defects from Zika actually come from an insecticide, and that Zika was a host invented by chemical companies. It had over 19,600 shares! The most popular accurate post about Zika; a press release by the World Health Organization, was shared only 964 times! We want people to be accurately informed (you’re entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts!), because health misinformation can be dangerous. If you believe that Zika is a hoax, you won’t adequately protect yourself from the mosquitoes carrying it.

Take Abe’s advice and be a detective the next time you’re reading health information on social media. Ask: “Where did the person get the information?” and be skeptical of people and web sites that don’t identify their sources. Sources you can rely on include government health organizations (sites ending in .gov), major medical schools (sites ending in .edu), and articles from journals and research publications like JAMA and The Lancet.

Medically reviewed in February 2019.

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