What is the difference between misinformation and disinformation? It is an important distinction, although both inevitably have the same impact. While misinformation concerns those who unintentionally spread false information with the belief that it is true, disinformation involves the deliberate dissemination of erroneous facts. This is particularly relevant with regard to the wellness industry, as the transmission of false claims has always been a prominent issue — sometimes with extremely grave consequences — but the advent of the internet has truly exacerbated this problem.
Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of living in our fast-paced, digital world is the increasing prevalence of disinformation, which is easily spread with social media. When consumers go on these sites, they are often inundated with false facts, and we are now starting to see social media users who rely on memes as a primary source of their information. No matter how many times a piece of information is objectively debunked, people will still continue to share it as factual. The scariest aspect of this is that buying into unverified, trendy wellness fads can cause people to ingest products which may actually end up hurting them.
It also causes difficulties for high quality brands who try to set the record straight when it comes to the benefits of their products. For example, many legitimate hemp extract and CBD companies suffer from being associated with the deceptive claims and practices from unscrupulous scammers, who spread false information with manipulative and suggestive marketing. Sadly, the less regulated an industry is, the more vulnerable its consumers are.
When trying out a new product or dietary supplement, how can we discern what information is factual, and what is manipulative or misleading? The wellness industry has long been vulnerable to unsubstantiated claims and “snake oil” salesmen who prey on under-educated consumers. That is why it is vital to understand these 7 ways to identify & fight misinformation in the wellness industry.
It was the great Douglas Adams who said, “Don’t believe anything you read on the net. Except this. Well, including this, I suppose.”
When it comes to any information that is found online, always be skeptical. The majority of the time, if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. Because of the internet, false information has the ability to spread instantly, which makes it more important than ever to do your own research and learn how to ask the right questions. There are many ways to verify information online, and a good part of that process involves common sense and good judgement.
Consider the Source
When you find a piece of information online, you first have to consider the source it is coming from. For instance, a friend might post a link on social media which claims that a common herb or fruit has the ability to cure cancer. What website is that person linking to? Is it just a clickbait article with a bunch of retargeting ads on a random website, or is it an accredited source of information?
One of the ways to tell this is by looking at the domain name: does the website end in “.com”, “.gov”, or “.org”? If the website’s domain is “.gov”, that means it is an official government website, which lends it legitimacy. If it is a “.com” site, ask yourself, where is the origin of the information? Does it cite any specific research or studies with included links?
It’s incredibly important to verify the author’s credentials, or at least know who provided the original information that the author may be citing. For example, an article about brain function that was written by an accredited neurosurgeon should have more legitimacy than something that has been written by a random blogger with no real educational background in neuroscience. However, if a blogger writes an article that is citing valid information by the accredited scientist, it can still be a legitimate source of information.
Most importantly, why is the article being written? Is it on a website that sells products that are associated with the extraordinary claims that it is making? These signs can be a red flag that the information may have been manipulated or skewed in order to facilitate a sale. Definitive language is a big part of this: if the article is specifically claiming a product has medicinal value when the FDA has not approved it for that, that is an indication that the website may be a scam.
Beyond the author, take a close look into the websites service and product reviews. Does that company have any reviews at all? Read through these carefully and evaluate the validity of what people are saying to determine if you truly trust in this company before buying. Making sure the company you are following really understands the regulations and provides adequate information on if whether their products have any side effects you should be aware of or will they get you high?.
Don’t get Emotional
When we or people that we know are suffering, it can take a huge mental toll. Oftentimes, the people who perpetuate disinformation will use that to their advantage, so it is imperative to take this into consideration and most importantly, don’t get emotional when discerning whether the data is legitimate or not.
Emotional responses are incredibly powerful, which can make people vulnerable to manipulation. Oftentimes people reject or accept informational sources based on subjective experiences, rather than objective facts.
Find a Second Source
When you see a particular claim or headline that catches your eye, do you check to see if other information outlets are verifying it as well? Always find a second source for any medical or health claims that you may read about. If a researcher releases the results of a study that indicates a significant scientific or medical breakthrough, multiple news outlets will often report on it at the same time, which can lend to the legitimacy of the information.
Conversely, if only one website is making an incredible or outlandish claim, it is a good indication that the information has not been verified by any other credible sources and is likely to be false. Have you verified the legality at a federal or statewide level as well?
Beware Confirmation Bias
We all come with our own preconceived notions; it is inevitable. That is why we must all beware of confirmation bias, because scammers are able to use a subjective opinion to dismiss a valid, objective fact. They know that when a lie is repeated often enough, people will believe it.
This is particularly relevant in terms of AI algorithms that are used to determine what content is suggested to you on your social media. If it perceives you as feeling a certain way about a particular thing, it will start sending you more content that reinforces what it thinks you want to see. Many times, this can place people in an echo-chamber of ideas which are constantly reinforced, and this can directly contribute to the development of a confirmation bias.
Spread the Word
If you feel compelled to share about a particular wellness trend or product that has caught your interest, please take all precautions to ensure that you are not helping those who perpetuate disinformation by unintentionally spreading misinformation. Once you become more away of how to verify legitimate sources of information, you will be less susceptible to scammers and can help your loved ones become more aware of what to look out for as well.