Coronavirus highlights fake health news


  • The Internet is full of misinformation about the coronavirus.
  • Bad health information still abounds online.
  • It’s up to online health seekers to determine which health information is bad and which is credible.
  • Google has further blurred the lines between “ads” and organic search results.

In response to the NY Times article on the Coronavirus, someone on Twitter posted the following “Does it live on surfaces? Is it airborne? Can virus transmit through ventilation systems? Can a patient get REinfected? How long does the mild case last, and when are they no longer contagious? Are gloves/masks effective? What about Lysol spray, is it effective? So many unknowns here”.

Welcome to the era of misinformation.

For the media, online, it’s about clicks and the best way to get clicks is with headlines that are either completely bogus or full of half-truths. According to STAT News “ was founded by Mike Adams, who claims to have cured his own type 2 diabetes with natural remedies. Through a network of more than 200 websites, with names such as and, Adams has long promoted the debunked claim that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism. is one of many health-focused sites that peddle false and misleading claims to large audiences”.

Then there are influencers. Almost 90% of social media influencers are sharing inaccurate health information, according to a study. The Guardian recently said “online, dubious claims about cancer are rife, from outright “cures” to assertions of a conspiracy to suppress “the truth” about it. In 2016, more than half of the 20 most shared cancer articles on Facebook consisted of medically discredited claims. And this goes far beyond Facebook – the Wall Street Journal recently revealed that YouTube was hosting accounts with thousands of subscribers that promoted bogus cancer treatments. O’Sullivan’s skepticism gave her some immunity to the lure of empty promises. But having lost her mother to breast cancer, “fear left me more vulnerable to pseudoscience than I would care to admit”, she says.

In addition, YouTube is promoting bogus cancer cure videos and running adverts for major brands and universities before they play, an investigation has found. The site is profiting from more than 80 videos that contain unproven remedies that could put vulnerable patients at greater risk. The so-called cures often involved consuming substances such as donkey milk, baking soda, boiling water or turmeric. Others promoted extreme fasting and juice diets.

Online health information is a huge quagmire and it’s up to online health seekers to determine what’s real and what’s bullshit. What our industry has to learn is that people search for answers to their health questions when health stories are in the news. Pharma needs to better understand these trends and respond on product websites instead of saying “you’re on your own”.