Facebook has a ton of false or misleading health information

  • Three quarters of health information on Facebook was 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 articles never back claims with links to original sources or research studies to support findings.
  • In terms of overall credibility, slightly less than half, of posts, achieved a high credibility rating. However, highly rated articles received 11 million shares, while poorly rated articles had roughly 8.5 million shares.

When it comes to health information on Facebook it seems that they should all come with a disclaimer “read at your own risk”. For example, there was a piece that linked ramen noodles to Alzheimer’s, and another that claimed onions can be used to treat ear infections.

The rampant spread of inaccurate health claims across the internet prompted the AMA Journal of Ethics to call for clinicians to clear up fake information with their patients. Ultimately, this troubling trend poses public health risks, as evidenced by the recent rise of anti-vaccination content.

Overall credibility: More than half top 100 readers have interacted with problematic content

In terms of overall credibility, slightly less than half the top 100 articles achieved a high credibility rating. However, it is encouraging that there are a greater number of shares for highly-rated articles (45%) compared to poorly-rated articles (35%, see figure below). Highly-rated articles obtained a total of about 11 million shares, while poorly-rated articles obtained about 8.5 million shares. Articles in the neutral category received credibility scores that were borderline high or low. While some articles in this category may not be factually wrong, they may also contain problems such as exaggerations, misleading content and logical fallacies. Therefore, while not overtly inaccurate, neutral-rated articles still have a long way to go in terms of providing highly credible information to readers.

Considering that the number of shares for 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. 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%.

What does this mean?

1ne: False or misleading health information could lead to more serious health problems and a rise in healthcare costs but new data/research is needed.

2wo: Measurement needs to be implemented between patients healthcare posts versus credible health information source posts, such as from national news magazines like Time or leading medical journals.

3hree: Pharma needs to step lightly when using Facebook to ensure health information is not trolled or used wrongly.

4our: There is a huge opportunity to help online health seekers access credible health information, especially when it comes to health news headlines.