Debunking fake health news on social media


Majority of adult Americans get their news from social media according to a recent 2016 Pew Research Center study. Roughly two thirds of Facebook users get their news on this social networking site, which translates to 44% of the US general population. Forty two percent of US consumers used social media to assist in their healthcare decision making decisions. The proliferation of fake news however has sowed confusion among 63% of adult population on social media. Health and health care wasn’t spared from fake news proliferation.


In this discussion, we hope to raise your awareness on fake health news, learn how to spot fake health news online and advocate sharing of tips on spotting fake health news to the general population. Specifically,

    • to reflect on why (or why not) fake health news on social media is a problem 
    • to enumerate ways on spotting fake health news on social media
    • to identify the ways in which social media companies combat fake health news
    • to enumerate way how healthcare professionals should address fake health news on social media.

Fake news or post truths are “type of propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media”. It is intentionally written and published to mislead people for financial or political gains. Fake news often have “sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines” to grab the reader’s attention.

  • Activity 1. Test your fake news knowledge by answering this BBC Quiz on spotting fake news. A number of quiz items refer to fake health information online.

Social Media as a source of trustworthy news

Approximately 62% of US adults get their news from social media sites such as Facebook and twitter.

Percentage of US adults who get news from social media networking sites (Source: Pew Internet Research Group)

This is a significant increase compared to a 2012 study, which says that 49% of US adults seek news on social media sites. Interestingly a 2012 pWC Health Research Institute study showed 42% of consumers have used social media to access health-related consumer reviews and assist in their healthcare making decisions.

Not only are US adults getting their news on social media or that social media information influences their healthcare decision making but the trust ratings for health information on social networking sites are high. A 2016 architectural approach study revealed that users perception of health information on social media is high. This confirms an older 2012 pWC study that revealed 90% of respondents age 18-24 would trust information shared by others on social networking sites.

Recently, the proliferation of fake news online has sowed confusion among social media users. About two-in-three U.S. adults (64%) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. Fake news and the confusion it brings is even more dangerous and potentially damaging in healthcare. One of the most shared health news on Facebook is fake health information. Can you spot this popular health misinformation?

Are fake health news on social media a problem?

A recent Independent (UK) article stated “how dangerous fake health news has conquered Facebook” postulating that “misinformation published by conspiracy sites about serious health conditions is often shared more widely than evidence-based reports from reputable news organisations”. Half of the 20 most shared news bearing the word “cancer” in its headline seen by a combined total of millions in 2016 were discredited by health authorities and are considered myths or fake news. The worst part of this cancer fake health news is that it is dangerously misleading.

In what ways could social media companies combat fake health news? 

As to when will proliferate of this fake health news on social media end, nobody knows. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has pledged efforts to curb fake news on facebook and a group of scientist and science supporters have debunk some of the more popular cancer myths on social media. Some perpetuators of fake health news fought back by spreading information about “censorship on independent journalism” by social media sites or internet gatekeepers.

How should healthcare professionals address fake health news on social media?

There are a few health institutions and professionals who seek out and debunk fake health news on social media. Cancer Research UK and Sense About Science are two of these institutions but fake health news continues to proliferate online.  Admittedly, not many healthcare professionals debunk (or at least voicing out their concern) fake health news on social media. This is one of the reasons why fake health news still proliferate online.

Activity 2. Using your twitter handle (eg. @bonedoc), join the #HealthXPh chat on twitter this Saturday September 30, 2017 9:00- 10:00 PM Manila time  and reflect on the following guide questions

  • T1: Is fake health news on social media a problem? Why or why not?
  • T2: In what ways could social media companies combat fake health news?
  • T3: How should healthcare professionals address fake health news on social media?

Send your reflections with the hashtag “#HealthXPh” anywhere inside your 140 character length tweets. Multiple tweets allowed so long as it is within the one hour time frame set by the moderator. Expect retweets and tweet-discussion with global participants. a US non profit consumer advocate, together with The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) developed an easy checklist on how to spot fake news online. This is reflected on a shareable graphic below.

Activity 3. Using this guide, retest your fake news knowledge by answering this BBC Quiz on spotting fake news. Share your experience on this discussion by appending your thoughts/ summary on the header of this image and posting it on your social media networks.


In this learning discussion, we raised your awareness on fake health information on social media, did activities to spot and debunk fake health news on social media and shared your thoughts on combating the proliferation of fake health news via social media twitter and facebook. #HealthXPh hopes that healthcare professional would play an active role in combating fake health news online.


      1. Gottfried, Jeffrey and Shearer, Elisa ; Pew Research Center, May, 2016, “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016” Retrieved Sept 30, 2017
      2. Health Research Institute April 2012; Social media “likes” healthcare From marketing to social business Retrieved Sept 30, 2017
      3. Lopez, D.M., Blobel, B. & Gonzalez, C.; Information quality in healthcare social media – an architectural approach; Health Technol. (2016) 6: 17. Accessed Sept 30, 2017
      4. Andrew Griffin, Rachel Roberts; Facebook’s plan to stop fake news revealed by Mark Zuckerberg, but site will continue to promote stories it knows to be fake. Independent (UK) ; 15 December 2016 18:59 GMT Accessed Sept 30, 2017
      5. Childs, Oliver Don’t believe the hype – 10 persistent cancer myths debunked Science Blog in Cancer Research UK March 24, 2014 Accessed Sept 30, 2017