Countering fake medical news on social media a challenge

Wide reach of messaging platforms a problem

Media reports over the last couple of years indicate that fake news on WhatsApp has claimed about 25 lives in the country, Jinesh P.S., a health activist, has said. But he is unsure of the number of lives lost or are under threat due to completely baseless information on health issues that get passed on as authentic news on the personalised messaging platform.

Co-founder and administrator of the Facebook group, Info Clinic, Dr. Jinesh said there was no accounting for how forwarded ‘health’ messages made people discontinue their regular medication and take unauthenticated health tips masquerading as alternative or traditional medicine.

While his group tried to give answers to a number of queries that landed directly on their page, the reach of the WhatsApp messaging platform was far greater, he said.

The main aim of fake news creators is to attack modern medicine. Diseases such as cancer, psoriasis, cardiac ailments, diabetes and hypertension are among some of targeted diseases, for which modern medicine has evolved management techniques rather than sure-cure treatment methods.

Unvalidated and fake health messages had far-reaching consequences, said Hemant Radhakrishnan, the managing director of Anvita Tours2Health, an internet platform that tries to bridge the gap between patients and doctors. Most people are not inclined to even consider validating the authenticity of the information. The nuisance of fake messaging was that it kept circulating over the years, he added.

On the part of the government, an Arogya Jagrata programme has been launched to provide information through house visits. The State government had faced a tough time while implementing the measles-rubella (MR) vaccination programme last year.

District Collector K. Mohammed Y. Safirulla told The Hindu that the challenges of contradictory news against the vaccination drive on social media were taken up at various levels. While the government had to register cases against some people for spreading news against vaccination, the hard part was to convince people about the good effects of vaccination.

“We cannot stifle opposition in a democratic set-up, so we had to approach the opposition with data and evidence,” said Mr. Safirulla.

Neurosurgeon B. Ekbal, former Vice Chancellor of Kerala University and noted health activist, said he considered social media a good platform to run health campaigns. There were several young doctors utilising the platforms to run rational health campaigns, he said.

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 5:43:18 AM |

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