Social media platforms seek to stop misinformation

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

12/05/2020 3:49:11 PM

The RACGP has applauded steps to limit the impact of pseudo-scientific information during the coronavirus pandemic.

Social media on phone
Dr Harry Nespolon believes it is a ‘sad but unfortunate reality’ that some people have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Now more than ever, expert medical advice matters most.’
That is the message being delivered by RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon, who has welcomed measures being taken by popular social media platforms to halt the concerning spread of medical misinformation during the coronavirus pandemic.
Twitter announced its plans on 11 May to warn users when a tweet is deemed to contain disputed or misleading content. It will take posts on a case-by-case basis, and only remove those that are deemed as harmful.
The news follows Facebook’s decision last month to introduce fact checkers, alerting users of false information and redirecting them to the World Health Organization’s website.
‘Throughout this pandemic I have been warning Australians to be wary of false or misleading medical “advice” and updates on social media concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and other health issues,’ Dr Nespolon said.
‘It’s not uncommon for people to espouse alternative therapies on social media which are not supported by science or the medical community. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has obviously given them an opportunity to dial up their content and alarm an even greater number of already anxious Australians.
‘It seems like every day we have had another outlandish conspiracy theory or “cure” for COVID-19.’

Dr Nespolon is referring to high profile celebrities, such as TV chef Pete Evans, who was recently fined by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for telling his 1.4 million followers on Facebook that a $15,000 ‘BioCharger’ could help fight COVID-19.
Others include model and businesswoman Miranda Kerr who promoted a ‘Virus Protection’ guide from ‘medical medium’ Anthony William to her 12 million followers on Instagram, while former Home and Away star Isabel Lucas publicly declared she does not ‘trust the path of vaccinations’, a sentiment shared by retired surfer Taj Burrow: ‘Vaccines not needed, just a good immune system’.

A documentary spreading conspiracy theories about coronavirus titled Plandemic went viral this week across YouTube and Facebook, receiving millions of views and comments before being taken down.
‘It is a sad but unfortunate reality that some people have taken advantage of this pandemic to promote countless pseudo-scientific cures and treatments and myths, which at best do nothing and at worse are hazardous to people’s health,’ Dr Nespolon said.
Meanwhile, health experts are concerned such content could mislead vulnerable people and jeopardise public health by lulling them into a false sense of security, rather than following expert advice.
‘Healthcare workers across Australia are working around the clock, risking their own health to care for patients and do all they can to save lives at risk from COVID-19,’ Dr Nespolon said.
‘They don’t want unnecessary attention drawn to themselves, this is their job and they are proud to do it every day. But it makes their vital work a lot harder than it needs to be when celebrities with high profiles and many social media followers encourage people to ignore expert medical advice.’
The RACGP has highlighted the importance of expert medical advice in its latest nationwide campaign Expert Advice Matters, encouraging the public to visit their GP and informing them of both face-to-face and telehealth consultations.
Encouragingly, a survey on COVID-19: Australian news and misinformation conducted by the University of Canberra found the public’s trust in news about coronavirus to be higher than trust in news in general.
While Dr Nespolon acknowledged the continued anxiety being felt by the community given the many unknowns about COVID-19, he encouraged people to be critical of what they consume online when it comes to all health issues.
‘My recommendation is just log off social media when you see someone like Pete Evans spruiking a device featuring “a thousand different recipes” including some “in there for the Wuhan coronavirus”,’ he said.
‘The best sources of information on COVID-19 include the RACGP website and the official website, not Miranda Kerr’s Instagram account.’
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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