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February 2020

How to Spot Fake Health News on Social Media

About one-third of U.S. adults turn to social media as a source of health information. Often, what they find instead is misinformation. But while the news may be fake, the consequences can be very real.

Woman sitting on couch looking at laptop

Consider all the posts and memes claiming that vaccines cause autism. Science has debunked this myth. Yet it’s still a factor in lower vaccination rates and the comeback of illnesses such as measles.

Is your feed full of food myths?

Misinformation about what’s healthy to eat—and what’s not—is also common on social media. For example, numerous posts and pages tout raw (unpasteurized) milk. But the pasteurization process kills harmful bacteria. Drinking raw milk can lead to foodborne illnesses.

As another example, at-home food sensitivity tests are widely hyped online. These tests claim to diagnose sensitivities to dozens of foods. People may change their diets or even try to manage serious diseases based on the results. Yet there’s no scientific proof these tests are valid.

Sorting health facts from fiction

Social media is great for some things. Funny pet memes have helped salvage many a bad day. But as a health resource? Facebook, Instagram, and the like can be less than reliable. These pointers can help you spot misinformation:

  • Consider the source. Your uncle’s comment may be well-meaning, but is he a medical expert? That infographic may be catchy, but did it come from a trusted health organization?

  • Double-check the info. See what credible online sources say about the subject. Then discuss what you find with your healthcare provider.

  • Guard against mental bias. The more often something is repeated, the more believable it may seem—and that can be deceiving.

Be skeptical about what you find on social media. If a health claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Joseph Gonnella, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2019
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