News Article

Health Professionals Rely on Social Media to Counter Fake News

By Sofía Garduño | Fri, 09/02/2022 - 11:36

The transformation of social media into an important medium of communication was accompanied by the overabundance of misleading and false health information, also known as the infodemic. To face this problem, health professionals are working to communicate reliable information in new formats through digital channels. However, it is imperative for the population to learn to discern between trustworthy sources and undependable ones. 


“About 70 percent of Mexicans today are internet users and their preferred sources of health-related information are social media, websites and apps. It is our job to find a way to make quality information available,” said Enrique Culebro, Founder and General Director, Central Media.


Internet use in Mexico has increased by 65.8 percent since 2018, as reported by INEGI. Mexicans use the internet mainly for entertainment, communication and to stay informed. The latter is mainly achieved through social media, as 87.8 percent of the population uses the internet to access these platforms. WhatsApp is the most used social media app in Mexico, followed by Facebook and Facebook Messenger. However, the information shared in social media is not always true and the spread of non-scientifically based health information poses a threat to the population. 


“It is important to understand that the biggest challenge during an infodemic is to offer science-based information to the population,” said Carolina Gómez, Expert in Public Health and Collaborator of Excélsior.


Health professionals can also use social media as part of their medical practice. Nine out of 10 doctors report using social media for situations within their medical activity and five out of 10 doctors indicate that they have been influenced in their medical decisions by what they see on social networks, said Culebro.


In social media, algorithms can choose the information that users get on these platforms, not necessarily the users themselves. “Algorithms in social media do not focus on spreading trustworthy information but on getting the user's attention,” said Mijail Tapia Moreno, Founder, YouTube Channel Dr. Mijail Tapia.


However, fake news spread faster than true news on social media mainly because of people, not bots. False information is up to 70 percent more likely to be retransmitted than true information. 


The COVID-19 pandemic made visible the need to have fast science-based information as people started to believe and rely on fake information shared through social media. This was caused by the raise in the number of sources that were not entirely reliable. In early 2020, about 6,000 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 misinformation, as reported by the WHO. The amount of information regarding SARS-CoV-2 was immense. For example, in March, 2020, 550 million tweets included the terms coronavirus, corona virus, covid19, covid-19, covid_19 or pandemic.


Even during the current post-pandemic times, the amount of fake health information shared across social media platforms continues to rise. “A study found that every three months, the available information on the internet triples, so not only is data reliability important but also is its quantity,” said Andrés Galofre, CEO and Co-Founder, DocRed.


To face this, studies have shown that health agencies and professionals should increase their online presence to improve the quality of health information on social media and combat fake news sharing. “Doctors that learn and change the way they deliver information in a more didactic and accessible way will be the ones to capture the users’ attention,” said Culebro.


The information has to be created and shared according to the demographics of each social media in which news can be transmitted. TikTok is mainly used by people under 20 years old while WhatsApp and Facebook mostly used by people over 30 years old, according to Tapia. “We must understand the new formats and message codes. We have to shift to the use of short videos. The doctors have done an excellent job. It is easier for the Latin American doctor to give explanations through social networks.,” added Culebro 


This scenario is transforming the relationship between the doctor and patient from a paternal one to one of common ground. “There is greater closeness with the independence of the patient,” said Francisco Corpi, Sales Director, Elsevier. 


However, offering based scientific health information through social media will not end with the infodemic that boosts the popularization of fake news. Society has to be educated on how to search for information and determine its veracity. “The more we educate the population to understand where the information comes from, the better control will be,” said Corpi. “Companies need to understand where and how the sector is moving to support health professionals with responsibility as their guiding principle,” he explained. 


Experts agree that the health professionals and the industry in general do not have to fear change, but rather adapt to it and leverage the multiple benefits that technology offers. Moreover, the experience of previous infodemics ought to be used for societies to be prepared and resilient, especially in the current times as sanitary risks are increasing.

Sofía Garduño Sofía Garduño Journalist & Industry Analyst