The Federal Trade Commission is shaking its finger at 10 companies using “fake news” websites to promote their products, reports NPR. Companies such as Beony International LLC, in San Diego, made websites with names such as “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts,” and “Health 6 Beat Health News” to promote its acacia berry weight loss products.
Since the beginning of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, many have worried about the quality of online health information. These worries haven’t stopped people from using the Web as a tool to find and disseminate health advice, though. According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than 60 percent of American adults look for health information online, and of Internet users, that number is an even higher 80 percent.
In the mid-1990s, a group of international telemedicine specialists created the Health On the Net Foundation. Look for the HON symbol and you know that site has been vetted by a global body of experts. However, when people can get their health information anywhere, anytime, and not everyone knows to look for the HON symbol, how are health communicators supposed to squeeze their messages into the public’s awareness between all the riff raff?
Do cases such as the fake news sites promoting bogus products increase skepticism about and reactance to all online health messages, even when those messages come from even the credible sources? The web is a powerful tool for communicating to the public, but health communicators should investigate and understand how the bad apples may be spoiling the good ones if they want their messages to be heard and accepted.
One way to battle the effects of the not-so-credible messages is to make media literacy an integral part of school curricula, starting at the grade school level and continuing through the higher education years. All universities and colleges should have a required media literacy class as a prerequisite for life after college in the information age, in my humble opinoin.
What other suggestions do you have for combating fake or unreliable health information that may be causing accidents out there on the information superhighway?