How to Spot Fake Medical News and Health Scams

Published March 31, 2020
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With all the information flying around online, it's essential that you know how to spot fake medical news. Health scams, sensationalist stories, and other fake news can masquerade as reliable information, but these easy tricks can help you tell the difference.

Three Signs of Fake News and Scams

Fake news might look like real news, but if you dig a little deeper, you can avoid being fooled. Look for these telltale signs of fake news.

1. It Comes From a Biased Source

Fake news often comes from a source that is biased. If the site is selling something or has an agenda, you should consider the information suspect. Similarly, joke news sites can look very real, so double check that the source is serious. The source isn't always clear, however. Here's how you find out the source:

  • If it's a site, look at the URL. Check the home page to learn about the organization. Read their About page to learn more about them. They may even be a humor site and not a news site at all.
  • If it's a picture or quote, consider who is posting it and its original source. Even a shared post should be traceable back to its original. Sharing without an original source can spread misinformation, and many people consider it a disadvantage of social networking.
  • If you still can't find the source, consider it fake news. Real news sites value their reputations and claim credit for their work.

2. It's an Old Story

Sometimes, an older news story can be posted out of context years later. This leads people to think the problem has come back or hasn't been resolved. Always check the date the story was originally published.

  • For news stories, the publication date should be within the past few weeks.
  • For hot topics and current events like pandemics, look for things to be even more recent. When things change on a daily basis, news gets outdated quickly.
  • If you can't find a date anywhere on the site, consider it fake news.

3. The Headline Provokes an Emotional Response

Not all stories that provoke an emotional response are fake news. However, clickbait headlines are designed to move readers emotionally and induce them to click. Any good headline drives clicks, but if it sounds overly sensational, it probably is.

  • Does the content of the article match the headline? If not, move on.
  • Is the headline overly emotional? If just reading the headline makes you feel something, look deeper.
  • Is the headline biased? Does it express an opinion? If so, it's not news.

Two Examples of Fake News Articles

In these two examples, you can see how fake news looks like real news. However, if you use the signs to spot it, you can tell the difference.

False: Drinking Water Can Prevent Coronavirus

In an example of coronavirus fake news, a widely shared piece of inaccurate medical advice claimed that you could prevent coronavirus infections by drinking water every 15 minutes. Supposedly, this would prevent the coronavirus from entering someone's lungs. However, this is completely false information, according to Snopes. These are two obvious clues that reveal it's a scam:

  • The headline for this article is "Serious Excellent Advice." That's vague and biased, and it's not the kind of headline any reputable medical site would use.
  • The source is not clear. It is purported to be from various sources, including Japanese doctors, Stanford University, and others. However, nothing reveals the actual source.

False: Colorado Pot Shop Accepting Food Stamps

Another misleading news story is one from National Report. The headline is Colorado Food Shop Accepting Food Stamps, and it details how a marijuana dispensary supposedly allows customers to use taxpayer-provided food stamps to purchase marijuana. If you look a little closer, however, you can see why this may not be real news:

  • The source is suspect. If you dig into the information about it, you'll find the National Report has a disclaimer that states it is fake news.
  • The date is from several years ago, so if you were to see this story shared today, you would know it was not relevant.

Take the Time to Look for Signs

Fake news is never good, but there are times when it's particularly harmful. For instance, coronavirus fake news can put people at great risk. Take the time to check for telltale signs of scams so you can avoid the trap of fake news.

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How to Spot Fake Medical News and Health Scams