Tag: fromonline

3 ways to tell evidence-based health information from online pseudoscience

“I drink borax!” proclaims the smiling TikToker. Holding up a box of the laundry additive, she rhymes off a list of its supposed health benefits: “Balances testosterone and estrogen. It’s a powerhouse anti-inflammatory…. It’s amazing for arthritis, osteoporosis…. And obviously it’s great for your gut health.”

Videos like these prompted health authorities to warn the public about the dangers of ingesting this toxic detergent — and away from such viral messaging that promotes unsubstantiated and medically dangerous health claims.

Health information is increasingly being shared online, and often the borders between legitimate health expertise and pseudoscience aren’t clear. While the internet can be a valuable and accessible way to learn about health, it’s also a place rife with disinformation and grift, as unscrupulous influencers exploit people’s fears about their bodies.

Evidence and influencers

 

In my medical practice, I can usually track online wellness trends, such as a patient refusing a medication because of online claims — many of which are false — that it lowers testosterone, or the several months when it seemed everyone was taking turmeric for joint pain, or the patients who request an ivermectin prescription in case they catch COVID.

So how does someone who simply wants to learn more about the human body sift through the information? How to separate bad-faith grift from good advice?

Wellness influencers tap into a truth about how we process information: it’s more trustworthy when it comes from a person we feel like we know. That’s why a charismatic personality’s Instagram account that uses intimate stories to promote parasocial attachment — the sense of being part of a community — is more memorable than a website offering dry recitations of evidence.

But as social media has become ubiquitous, health experts have caught on that sharing their personal side alongside reliable

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