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Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature

Medical misinformation on social media—are the platforms equipped to be the judge?

ݮƵ 2024; 384 doi: (Published 06 February 2024) Cite this as: ݮƵ 2024;384:p2987
  1. Chris Stokel-Walker,
  2. freelance journalist
  1. Newcastle upon Tyne
  1. stokel{at}gmail.com

Misinformation is rife in the age of YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. When social media is full of “experts,” who judges what is right and what is wrong? Chris Stokel-Walker reports

Social media and the internet are the first port of call for many people with ailments or questions about their health. YouTube reports that health videos on the platform were viewed more than three billion times in the UK last year.

Users are as likely to encounter ordinary people passing comment on the latest research or offering advice as they are to find fully qualified professionals. Science is increasingly being taken out of the hands of experts—and expert communicators—and into the hands of ordinary people, as has long happened on social media.

The pandemic has catalysed the production of more health specific information, says Vishaal Virani, YouTube’s UK health lead, who liaises with the health sector, but “there was definitely some of that happening pre-pandemic . . . On the lifestyle and nutrition side of things, it’s been going on for quite a while.” TikTok has its own team of policy leads, employees covering various aspects of health, including developmental health, physical health, and mental health. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, did not respond to a request to participate in this story.

But misinformation predates social media, says Frank Kelly, professor of community health and policy at Imperial College London, and the coauthor of a recent Royal Society study on the online information environment.1 “[It] isn’t particularly new,” he says. “What is new is the online information environment provides a speed and scale for the spread of dis- and misinformation.”

What had been a slow shift has become a massive rupture. “We can’t now go back from this point in which people are using …

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