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Fake Health News Rampant on Facebook; Authorities Urge Readers To Evaluate Information

Update Date: Jan 09, 2017 09:10 AM EST
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Medical practitioners have raised their concerns about fake health news spreading in social media. (Photo : Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Health officials are warning the public of fake health news being circulated in social media platforms such as Facebook. This misinformation could be dangerous and affect serious health conditions of individuals. Experts are now taking active roles in teaching the public how to evaluate information they see online.

Information about health and treatment backed by science and evidence are reportedly shared less on Facebook. According to David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, this is often seen in "in areas where conventional medicine can't do as much as people would wish."

Last year, among the 20 most-shared articles in Facebook about cancer, more than half are not backed up by doctors and health officials. Authorities are looking into conspiracy of sites that promote cure-all medication.

Public Health England and Royal College of General Practitioners have also raised their concerns about fake health news spreading in social media. Cancer Research UK has already called the attention of Facebook. Dr Rachel Orritt, health information officer, said that incorrect articles should be contested to "prevent damaging health messages from spreading."

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairperson of the Royal College of GPs, also urges the public to read only from reliable sources and consult a medical doctor for the correct information and treatment.

In 2016, US News reported that 62 percent of Americans get their news from social media and 44 percent of that is from Facebook. Recently, the social media giant has already introduced a system where readers can flag fake health news or any disputed information.

Academic institutions and libraries are pushing for information literacy among students. They should be equipped with skills to identify, organize and cite information. More importantly, they should be able to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of information sources. Readers are being cautioned to identify researchers allegedly publishing fake health news, fraudulent results and reviews and even replication of studies.

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