Tag: pseudoscience

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

Cohen: Three ways to tell good health information from pseudoscience

Pay attention to what social media influencers are selling, how they’re talking about science and what sort of expertise they claim.

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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 way to learn about health, it’s also rife with disinformation and grift, as unscrupulous influencers exploit people’s fears about their bodies.

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.

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Experts concerned over ‘pseudoscience’ on social media

A concerned woman checks her smart phone while standing in a streetShare on Pinterest
Experts say mental health advice on social media platforms should be scrutinized carefully. Ivan Pantic/Getty Images
  • Online social platforms have increased visibility and discussion around mental health topics.
  • Not all mental health information shared online is necessarily accurate, evidence-based, or even well-intentioned.
  • Experts say people with mental health issues may be especially vulnerable to this type of messaging.

Anyone can create a TikTok account.

For the purposes of staying connected with friends and family, this can be a simple and effective tool.

However, as you might expect — or may have already experienced firsthand — this also means that not everything shared on TikTok is based in fact.

The same applies to other popular social platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and X (formerly known as Twitter).

In a new book edited by Jonathan N. Stea and Stephen Hupp, a panel of professionals examines the potential dangers of seeking mental health advice and treatments online, and in particular on social media platforms and celebrity sites.

What are the specific dangers, and what can be done to avert them? Here’s what experts have to say.

“I use TikTok and often witness mental health issues being shared and discussed on the platform,” Andrea Tarantella, LPC, NCC, a counselor with ADHD Advisor who was not involved in the book, told Medical News Today.

“I see anecdotal advice and personal experiences being shared that often oversimplify how complex mental health issues are. Individuals then self-diagnose with conditions such as ADHD and autism in the comments section, simply relying on one personal experience posted by the content creator,” said Tarantella.

While personal anecdotes certainly have the potential to be true, experts say they shouldn’t be applied broadly or mistaken as definitive.

Experts also caution against content that promotes immediate results

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