“Let’s Google it!”—how often have you said these words in the last month? How about the past week? Or even today? On average, we spend 7 hours consuming online content each and every day—getting answers to all our questions from “what’s the weather outside?” to “should I follow the Keto diet?”
But how can we know we can trust the info we’re getting online? How to spot fake news?
Well, it’s not always as easy as you might think! Fake news, false information, and misleading content are everywhere. That’s why, before you trust any online source, you should do your research first. And that goes doubly when your health is at stake.
Q. What’s the difference between fake and inaccurate reporting? A. One is deliberate
Facts about fake news—did you know?
- 45% of people in the UK believe they encounter fake news online every day
- 200 million engagements with fake news every month (at its peak)
- False news is 70% more likely to be re-tweeted than a true story
Why is knowing about fake news important in health and fitness?
Your health is your wealth. That’s why it’s essential that you get the right information for yourself. Not doing so could you at risk of injury or ill-health. For example, you may see an “amazing” vitamin advertised online or even read an article about it. Sounds great, right? I mean, just look at all those fantastic things it promises. But the truth can be far from that, or at the very least, it’s not for everyone. That vitamin might be nothing more than snake oil, contain ingredients that work against your current medication, or even simply be harmful to your health.
So, always check, check, and check again before believing any health claim.
But what about fitness gurus? How do I know who to trust?
Nowadays, almost anyone can claim to be an expert at something. But not everyone is. Knowing who you can trust when it comes to your well-being is vital. Here’s what you should watch out for:
- Check for qualifications. Your fitness trainer should always have accreditation. This will differ depending on where you are, so check your local regulations for more specific info.
- Read reviews, not hype. Nowadays, anyone can take a few great snaps and brand themselves as the next big thing. That’s why it’s essential not to be wowed by a photo, read client reviews to see real results.
- Promises way too much. Beach body by next Thursday? If only. Well-being goals should be realistic, require consistency, and determination. Any magic promises are just dreams, not reality.
Remember: No one is immune from fake news. Even digital natives like Gen Z and Millennials can fall victim to misleading stories and information. Fakes are becoming cleverer than ever before and can infiltrate your news feed, delivering false info as real news.
Keeping healthy—who to trust?
Fake news isn’t all about politics. Instead, misleading or false information appears in all spheres—from finance to fashion and even health and fitness. So, what can you do to protect yourself when learning about wellness online?
1. Consider the source of the information
Today, we aren’t getting our news from traditional media sources—newspapers, radio, TV—the age of the Internet is here, and with it, a way to spread news faster than ever before. Studies indicate that social media platforms such as Twitter are quickly becoming our go-to news outlets.
But isn’t the democratizing of media a good thing? Yes and no. While it’s always good to have alternative data sources and make intelligent decisions—the more information, the better, right? —it’s vital to recognize that online media sources don’t always have the same fact-checking process as traditional outlets. And, while this might not be a problem by itself, it’s vital to consider where you are getting your information.
2. Keep reading and watching
Say you’ve seen some alarming pieces of information online. Let’s take, for example, an article stating, “vaccines give you autism.” While this information is shocking and its original source is a scientific paper published in The Lancet (a peer-reviewed science journal), it’s simply not true. And here’s why.
If we dig even just a little deeper, we’ll come to learn that this study contained only 12 children, which is nowhere close enough for the number required to reach such a conclusion. Secondly, much of the data was self-reported by parents. Third, at least two of the children involved were noted as presenting autism symptoms prior to the MMR vaccine.
In addition, Wakefield had a financial conflict of interest when publishing the paper, considering Wakefield was involved as a witness in an anti-vaccine-related lawsuit, and was partly funded by an anti-vaccine lawyer. Furthermore, his “research” supported a single-dose vaccine, as opposed to MMR. Meanwhile, he filed a patent for a single measles vaccine the year prior.
The result? Despite the retraction, loss of a medical license, and proof of false research, many people today believe that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Although belief is not a problem, the very real health effects caused, such as an uptick in preventable diseases (measles, mumps, and rubella), speak for themselves.
(Want to learn more? Read more about Wakefield here)
3. Ask yourself, “Who is the author or creator?”
A reputable source has a reputed author or creator. So, if you see some info that sounds too shocking or too good to be true, it’s time to check out who wrote it. Look at their qualifications, background, what other projects or studies they’ve been involved in, and you’ll get a fuller picture. Not finding any information at all. Consider the possibility that this is not a real person, and the piece was ghost-written/ghost-produced to hide the identity of the author.
But what if they seem reputable, like the previous example? Unfortunately, we can’t account for all circumstances, and sometimes even people with the right qualifications do unethical things or are misleading. That’s why, alongside checking out who the person is, it’s vital to follow the next steps.
4. Review the sources
Always check where the information is coming from and ask yourself, “which sources have been used?” and “are they trustworthy? “If you can answer these questions satisfactorily, you will be a little bit surer that the content you’re watching, or reading is ok.
One more area to look out for is any conflicts of interest. Does the person writing have any financial gain beyond their work, and if so, how? Knowing these facts and reviewing the sources allows you to begin to understand how independent what you’re reading or watching is.
5. Look at the date
Good research should be regularly updated, right? That’s true. When checking out content online, always look for the date to see just how modern it is. Some sources are old and outdated, making their research irrelevant. Meanwhile, others simply fail to update and move with the times, ending up lost in the internet archive. So always check before you believe.
6. Have a sense of humor
Aside from malicious fake news, there’s one other type that you need to be aware of, and that’s fake news that’s deliberately designed to provoke a reaction. Like in real life, sometimes people may post things online that are not true and are intended to be humorous. But it doesn’t always work out this way. Once things have been shared, linked, etc., multiple times, the original meaning may be lost. That’s why if you see content that seems too extreme to be accurate or too good to be true, it’s time to have a sense of humor and slide to the left.
7. Think about your own biases
Many social media platform algorithms are specifically designed to give us more of what they think we want. While this can be handy when comparing prices on your next pair of trainers to get the best deal, if you’ve accidentally interacted with fake news once, then the algorithm might provide you even more of a bad thing. That’s why, if you see a lot of similar content following one view and one view alone, it might be time to stop, take a breath, and check out some other sources.
8. Ask an expert
If you are in doubt about something to do with your health, the best thing you can do is ask an expert. And that means your doctor. From helping decide which workout is best for you and your body to help get your diet under control, the best place to start is with your physician. Even if that advice is as simple as “you’re free to follow any fitness program you like or use any app you want,” getting it in advance starts you off on the right foot.
Fitness guru or fake in a nutshell
As much as we’d like to believe we can spot a fake from a mile away, truth be told, it’s harder than it seems. So, if we’ve got one piece of advice for how to tell a fake from the real deal it’s…go with your gut. Trust your instincts and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.