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What are we all going to do about medical misinformation on social media?

As I write this, I remember a colleague who had the courage to speak out against medical misinformation on Facebook and got charged for cyberlibel. What are we all going to do about medical misinformation on social media? Because it’s going to take a village.

It’s not everyday that editors-in-chief of cardiovascular scientific journals publish a statement like this

Purveyors of social media must be responsible for the content they disseminate. It is no longer acceptable to hide behind the cloak of platform. We, as editors, are charged with evaluating the validity of the science presented to us for possible publication, and we work hard to fulfill this heady responsibility. Recognizing that lives are at stake, we reach out to thought-leading experts to evaluate the veracity of each report we receive. Here, we challenge social media to do the same, to leverage the ready availability of science-conversant expertise before disseminating content that may not be reliable.

I attended a privacy summit recently, where one speaker noted that social media platforms are no longer mere information conduits but have become digital intermediaries who provide content themselves and decide which information is shown to their users. But do these social media platforms take responsibility for the content they disseminate? We know its users don’t, as it is often misinformation that goes viral.

I agree with Dr. Bryan Vartabedian when he says that doctors don’t control the information or even the conversation (as a side note, I’ve been invited by a medical society to give a conference presentation entitled, How to beat Dr. Google. My first slide will say, You can’t.) –

Patient access to information comes with benefits and risks. While the authors skew their discussion toward the problems with public access to information, they fail to acknowledge the tremendous benefit that patients derive from understanding their personal disease processes.

As a clinician, I’ve seen how online information can not only engage, but empower patients to manage their conditions. Internet prescriptions have helped my patients understand not so common conditions like adrenal or pituitary tumors. Thanks! The content I create on my Facebook page on commonly-asked questions about diabetes and thyroid disease, has helped my patients ask more nuanced follow up questions at consultations. I find it rewarding when a patient says, “In your Facebook video you said … but my experience is … and so I want to know …”

Certainly on my Facebook page, I’ve had to be vigilant about those who use the comments section to sell unproven therapies. I’ve had to add a long list of banned words to get such comments automatically hidden by Facebook, so I can delete them later. I’ve always been thankful that Facebook pages have this feature. Aside from the usual suspects (names of various supplements or personalities), I’ve even had to ban PM (private message). I’ve seen peddlers comment, “I’ve got something to cure that, PM me.”

If you check my Slideshare account, you will see many decks on establishing a professional social media presence for physicians. But how many Filipino physicians have done so? What I find encouraging though is I’ve received invitations from medical organizations to help their organizations craft a social media strategy. These organizations have established their social media presence and are looking to improve on how to reach the public.

Join the #HealthXPH tweet chat 9 pm Manila time, 2 February 2019 as we discuss what we can do about online medical misinformation.

T1. Should social media platforms take responsibility for medical misinformation shared on their networks? What are the responsibilities of its users?

T2. How can healthcare professionals as the editors-in-chief of cardiovascular scientific journals ask, vet the message on social media?

T3. Do you or your medical organization have a social media presence? What is being done by you or your organization to counter online medical misinformation?

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