Health is wealth and most of us try our best to keep ourselves and our loved ones in the best of health. But with all the information that’s floating on the internet, we often absorb unverified health advice that can harm us instead. Here are some ways you can do that:
- Check the source: Who is giving that information? Is it a message or social media post with a website link? Ask yourself if the website or the media source is qualified to give health advice. Prominent news websites publish news across themes. But if a social page with little credibility (check by second round of googling about it), or a parody website, a religious or spiritual resource, or one run by a pharmaceutical company, it should get your red flags up.
For example, a viral message circulating during the coronavirus pandemic claimed a false cure and attributed the info to BBC news. A simple google search will tell you that BBC published nothing of the sort. Type <claim>+<news website name>
If the name of the website in the link doesn’t seem familiar, don’t click on it. It might direct you to a fraudulent website meant to steal your personal information. Google the website name and go to its ‘About us’ section to understand who runs it and what is its purpose.
- Who is making the claim? Often, a ‘forwarded’ message or post claims a cure for a serious disease or a chronic condition that’s hard to deal with. It may boast of traditional wisdom and cultural superiority over other nations or modern medicine science to make exaggerated disease-control claims. People like spiritual leaders giving specialised health advice not backed by independently verifiable research are also not trustworthy sources. Check who is making the claim – is it only generic people like ‘scientists and doctors’ or does it name a particular person.
In the former category, it’s not a good idea to trust this source simply. In the latter situation, google the named person and check whether they really are a health expert endorsed or quoted by prominent news websites, health journals, your or other countries’ government or health departments. If there are not more than one or two mentions of this person online, and if you can’t find what institution they are affiliated to, it might be a good idea to verify this news in other ways and not trust this source right away.
For example, during the coronavirus pandemic, a viral post circulating on social media was about tea curing the COVID19 disease, which was baseless and false.
- Did it make you go ‘wow!’ or ‘oh no!’: Hold on, then. If the post makes a claim that’s too big, surprising, or upsetting, it is a clear indication to not be trusted without further checks. If it’s a major disease or illness, the World Health Organisation (WHO) would certainly have published this health advice or cure.
- Messaging style: If the message is in ALL CAPS, or contains many exclamation marks, is in multi-coloured text, has jumpy video or audio and dramatic audio-visual effects, or has poor grammar and sentence formation, it’s probably false. If it’s a text quote with a person’s photo to suggest they gave that health advice, it probably needs a check. If there’s a still photo with audio of someone speaking and claiming that it’s a prominent doctor, scientist, or public office holder, it might be worth asking yourself why are they not shown saying that on video?
However, one must remember that video proof is also not entirely reliable since technology enables many tricks such as a person’s lip movement could be synced to any audio. If it’s a big health claim from a prominent specialist person, it would certainly have multiple mentions in many media sources. Check for those.
It might also be worthwhile to reverse search the shared images on Google. If results show recent posts with same health tips across several media sources, with the same health expert or public servant’s photo, it might at least confirm that it’s the same person who’s said it.
Sometimes, false mass-messages are difficult to crack. There might be a screenshot of a news bulletin by a prominent news or health agency, or a government department – to instantly earn your trust -- with an add-on text by message sender that could be in multiple colours, in large caps, and so on. Search the article, post, or video to find out for yourself if that claim is actually made in it. For instance, several messages asked everyone to wear N95 masks to protect against COVID19, by sharing a misleading screenshot of a news article mentioning WHO, while the actual article of this credible agency only mentioned WHO suggesting health workers to be wearing these masks.
- Verify from legitimate sources: In times of major health emergencies like COVID19 pandemic, country and state governments, health research organisations, and WHO issue regular bulletins. Check for prevention and treatment claims on their websites or helplines.
For example, WHO is running an automated messaging service on WhatsApp and Facebook, accessible by a link, for getting information on spread and medical advice to reduce chances of being infected by coronavirus. Indian Council of Medical Research is also a credible source for health information. Indian government’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is also providing updated information about coronavirus on its website, and through helpline numbers 1075 (toll-free) and 011-23978046. Government has also launched a WhatsApp chat bot for coronavirus-related information at +91 90131 51515.
Always circle back to their original websites, emails, or helplines, and check for their logos or for signatures of their office bearers on circulars giving health advice.
- Fake-news-busting websites: When you can’t verify a claim yourself and need help from an additional but reliable source, websites specialising in fact-checking, like Alt News, AFP FactCheck, AP Fact Check, BBC Reality Check and others, might be good sources to turn to. You may flag to them a health advice that you think needs a fact-check as most of these agencies also have a feature for readers to submit suspicious posts.
- Share it!! (Don’t): If the health advice message stresses too much for you to share it or make it ‘viral’ then it is a reason to not trust it. A credible message speaks for itself instead of making appeals to be shared. Also, in general develop a habit of not randomly forwarding messages, even if it feels like a helpful thing to do. This is how most fake messages find high circulation. Most of us feel a message might help someone and share it and it keeps getting shared on and on. And suddenly a fake message is everywhere! If we can’t be sure of the authenticity of the message, it’s best to hold back.
Also, don't forget to check out our video below: