A shockingly large majority of health news shared on Facebook and YouTube is fake or misleading, according to a recent report. Medical misinformation is not a problem that Facebook or YouTube created, but. on the massive social networks, bogus treatments have thrived. The announcement of Facebook’s latest move against medical misinformation comes a week after a report published by The Wall Street Journal, on Tuesday, June 25th, evidenced their own investigation showing the prevalence on Facebook and YouTube of fake claims such as the use of baking soda injections to cure cancer.
Facebook Inc. and YouTube are being flooded with scientifically dubious and potentially harmful information about alternative cancer treatments, which sometimes gets viewed millions of times, the Wall Street Journal examination found. Now, the companies say they are taking steps to curb such accounts and to reduce the spread of misleading health care claims.
Facebook said, on Tuesday, July 2nd, it has made changes to its page-ranking algorithm to reduce "posts with exaggerated or sensational health claims" and attempts to sell products based on these claims. YouTube said separately it was taking similar actions, according to AFP.
The Wall Street Journal report said Facebook and Google-owned YouTube, outlined their plans to curb the spread of such fake medical claims after being presented with the findings of the investigation.
Facebook said it made changes last month as part of efforts to reduce the spread of misleading medical claims, including those from groups opposing the use of recommended vaccines.
"In order to help people get accurate health information and the support they need, it's imperative that we minimise health content that is sensational or misleading," Facebook Product Manager Travis Yeh said in a blog post.
The Journal report, based on interviews with doctors, lawyers, privacy experts and others, found numerous false or misleading claims about cancer therapies online. These included videos advocating the use of cell-killing ointments that could be dangerous, unverified dietary regimes, or unvalidated screening techniques.
YouTube said it has been working for some time to reduce the spread of misinformation on the platform. "Misinformation is a difficult challenge and any misinformation on medical topics is especially concerning," a YouTube spokesperson said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.
However the web of false, misleading and potentially dangerous cancer “cures” and conspiracy theories is not just there for those who stumble into it accidentally. Newspapers, too, are full of it according to a recent study of stories from numerous well-known websites, such as Time, NPR, the Huffington Post, Daily Mail, New Scientist, CNN, and more.
In collaboration with the Credibility Coalition, the website Health Feedback, a bipartisan network of scientists who collectively assess the credibility of health media coverage, looked at the 100 most popular health articles of 2018, specifically, those with the highest number of social media engagements.
Of the top 10 shared articles, scientists found that three quarters were either misleading or included some false information. Only three were considered “highly credible.” Some lacked context of the issue, exaggerated the harms of a potential threat, or overstated research findings. Many writers either twisted data or simply could not interpret it properly. Others, it seemed, had an agenda.
A Guardian story entitled “Is Everything You Think You Know about Depression Wrong?” (shared 469,000 times), was found to be “not credible and potentially harmful.” The author suggested that most cases of depression are not due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, but from a lack of fulfilment in one’s life.
“This article is an excerpt from a provocative book written by a lay person who is clearly anti-psychiatry, so there is no pretence of providing evidence (except cherry-picking evidence which supports his views) or a balanced viewpoint,” said Raymond Lam, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Psychiatry. “It is full of wild exaggerations, oversimplifications and inaccuracies.”
Health Feedback is a global network of scientists and all those who review articles have a PhD and have published articles in scientific journals. The top 10 articles were assessed by clinicians and scientists, while the remaining 90 were judged by Health Feedback's science editors.
The report blames social media giants for allowing the spread of "fake news" on their platform.
"Considering that the number of shared neutral and poorly-rated articles amount to almost half the total shares, this indicates that more work needs to be done to curb the spread of inaccurate health news," said Health Feedback.
"Much of the spread is facilitated by Facebook, which accounts for 96% of the shares of the top 100 articles, while Reddit accounts for 2% and Twitter 1%."
Google and Facebook have promised in recent months to crack down on health misinformation. Their statements yesterday of their updates fall into the context.