The widespread circulation of fake health news on social networks is misleading and potentially dangerous, health officials have warned.
Misinformation published by conspiracy sites about serious health conditions is often shared more widely than evidence-based reports from reputable news organisations, according to analysis by The Independent. Of the 20 most-shared articles on Facebook in 2016 with the word “cancer” in the headline, more than half report claims discredited by doctors and health authorities or – in the case of the year’s top story – directly by the source cited in the article.
Facebook has introduced measures allowing users to flag disputed news shared on the site following concerns the circulation of deliberately fictitious articles could have influenced the US election.
Public Health England and the head of the Royal College of GPs have expressed concern over the amount of made-up health news shared online, with Cancer Research UK calling for “vital” action from the social network. “As Facebook is increasingly used as a news source, it’s vital that incorrect articles are contested to prevent damaging health messages from spreading,” the charity’s health information officer Dr Rachel Orritt told The Independent.