You may blame it for the results of the presidential election. You may see it as the byproduct of the Internet run amok. You may have even believed some of it yourself—perhaps from a link you saw posted on Facebook, Twitter or some other social media.
It’s fake news and it is running rampant online—with very real consequences.
Fake news isn’t anything new. You can trace its lineage from the “yellow journalism” of the early 20th century to the birth of publications like the National Enquirer, but the conduit by which it reaches Americans—namely the more than 1 billion people on Facebook—gives it added power and breadth.
But while journalism ethicists and technology firms grapple with how to tame the beast, physicians have been dealing with this for years. Long before the Internet, patients would share their latest scientific findings and “tried-and-true” remedies that helped a friend of a friend. They’d ask doctors about exotic treatments they saw featured on a cable television “documentary” that could be available to them for only a few simple payments or a trip abroad.
And then came the Internet, providing any answer to any question … and opportunists who saw that a search engine could be the entry point for turning a worried patient into an anxious—and willing-- consumer.
Physicians have battled “Dr. Google” for years, dispelling bogus information in printouts or in links e-mailed by patients. Many have taken the fight to higher ground, providing medically-appropriate links on their practice website or pointing out the flaws in those too-good-to-be-true remedies seen online.
Even Dr. Google relented, with the tech giant recently revamping its app so that patients seeking information about their symptoms receive fewer sales pitches and more links to reputable medical journals and websites vetted by healthcare professionals.