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Filtering fake news from important health information

How to fact check health information?

It is important to filter health advice and information, what is true and what is fake, especially for serious health issues and in times of public health emergencies. Development Consortium brings a few tips and tricks on handling health news.

  • 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) 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.
  • 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. 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.
    It's not a good idea to trust this kind of information simply. If a solution was so easily available why wouldn't everyone in the world just use it? It might be a good idea to verify this kind of news by checking other websites, doctors or other medical professions that you know.
  • Too good to be true: 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, ask 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.
  • Verify from legitimate sources: 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 (MOHFW) is also providing updated information about coronavirus on its website, and through helpline numbers 1075 (toll-free) and 011-23978046. The Government of India has also launched a WhatsApp chat bot for coronavirus-related information at +91 90131 51515.
  • Don't Share it!! : 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.

 


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