In this video, Health Marketing Consultant Ron Harman King explains how to tackle health misinformation.
Below is a copy of his remarks:
In the age of internet ubiquity, does one topic create more trouble than social media, especially Facebook? Facebook – the platform that everyone seems to hate, yet 2.5 billion people use it every month.
As a great example of Facebook-induced anger, I draw your attention to this recent MedPage Today article by Dr. Vinay Prasad. In his contribution, Dr. Prasad selected HealthFeedback.org’s scientific advisors for fact-checking COVID-19 information.
Who is HealthFeedback? All I know is what their website says is that it is a France-based non-profit whose mission is to improve the credibility of science-related information online and in the media.
Dr. Prasad’s complaint is that HealthFeedback fact-checkers, and I quote, “are disproportionately high academics on Twitter who have mega-followers. They tend to have similar worldviews and share those views on Twitter. ”His suspicion is that Facebook editors choose fact-checkers for their popularity on social media rather than for their scientific credentials, and are therefore likely to choose based on their own unscientific biases.
Well dr. Prasad’s essay sparked a flurry of Facebook condemnations from readers. Quite a few join Dr. Prasad participates in boycotting social media for targeting Dr. To quote Prasad’s opinion on Facebook, “a sea of rubbish, illogical arguments, false claims, [and] harmful views. “
Yes. I couldn’t agree more. Not only is this a largely accurate description of Facebook, but also of many of the dinner conversations I’ve heard at Christmas parties for years.
However, the fact is that scientific illiteracy existed for centuries before social media. The internet has just made it easier to spread misinformation further and faster. For evidence, consider a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research earlier this year.
The researchers reviewed 69 health-related, English-language studies of health information on social media and found posts with health misinformation that accounted for up to 87% of the total. Misinformation about vaccines appeared in 43% of the posts.
Yes that is a problem. Somebody should do something about it. But who?
For me, the best answer probably comes unintentionally from a commenter on Dr. Prasad’s essay listing a PhD by his name. His answer was, and I quote, “Dr. Prasad is right that we are essentially allowing tribal pollution on social media to gradually replace independent, scientifically based and mutually validated thoughts and opinions.”
Again I can’t agree anymore. And who is the “we” that allows this? In my book, people with titles like PhD and MD are like everyone else. These are the human storehouses of scientific knowledge and wisdom. They are members of their own tribe, highly educated specialists who, in my humble opinion, too often sit on the sidelines of public discourse.
They are also the most respected tribe. Year after year, public surveys put nurses, doctors, pharmacists and scientists at the forefront of the most trusted professions.
Then why don’t we hear more from them on social media? In my work with, for, and with thousands of scientists and health care providers for 3 decades, I have expressed a startling belief to many members of the tribe, perhaps the majority – that is, their job is to counter scientific misinformation only in the clinic .
In short, the implication is often, “I’m too busy.”
But even before the Internet, exchanging complex medical information with a lay patient in a 15- or 20-minute meeting in the examination room had limited effect. There were very popular but useless home remedies long before Google and Facebook and the rest, remember?
With this in mind, I suggest that the members of the tribe make a pledge today. I call it the Facebook Truth In Science Anti-Misinformation Campaign. You will notice that the acronym is FACTS: FACTS. Nice coincidence, right?
By accepting the FACTS commitment, you are agreeing to get a Facebook or Twitter account, if you don’t already have one, and start posting. Once a week is enough. Twice is better.
Here’s all you need to do: Select an article or essay of popular interest published in a respected journal – JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, British Medical Journal. Or read the websites of the NIH, CDC, the World Health Organization, or the Mayo Clinic. Then post your choice again on Twitter or Facebook and add a short comment. There. Ready in 15 minutes.
That corresponds to 1 hour a month. Yes, the FACTS Pledge is a commitment, but a small commitment. If it’s more than you can make, find a FACTS Pledge buddy and split the job up. Either way, consider the alternative, which is to allow less informed tribes to rule the conversation.
Sure, a person’s FACT pledge doesn’t make a mound of beans. But don’t overlook the fact that there are about six million doctors and nurses working in the American healthcare system. Even a fraction of the total revenue from the FACTS Pledge would have a significant impact.
You would be in very good company too. Major social media players in healthcare include the venerable Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson Cancer Center, UCLA Health, Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, WebMD, and the World Health Organization. Everyone has 352,000 to 13 million Facebook followers. On an individual level, Johns Hopkins neonatologist Dr. Jennifer Arnold accumulated nearly a million Facebook fans.
Fortunately, others in the medical and scientific communities are joining the proactive approach. For example, not so long ago about 30 health professionals, including an epidemiologist and an infectious disease specialist, formed a group on Reddit – the sixth most popular social networking app in the US – to moderate coronavirus misinformation on the platform and fight. The group attracted more than 1.2 million unique users in the first two weeks.
The eyes and ears of the world are on social media. There are almost 800 times as many Facebook users worldwide as people who have died of COVID. Less than 2% attended medical or nursing school.
Let’s not hoard any knowledge. Please take the FACTS pledge. You have knowledge and wisdom. You’ve got a voice. Use it. You’re welcome.
Ron Harman King is the CEO of Vanguard Communications, a health marketing and practice management consultancy, and the author of The Totally Wired Doctor: Social Media, the Internet & Marketing Technology for Medical Practices.