Doctors call for action on social media’s health misinformation

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The peak body for Australia’s doctors has called on the government to invest in advertising to counter health misinformation being spread on the internet and social media.

However, those calls are likely to fall on deaf ears, given that some of that misinformation is coming directly from that side of the government’s benches and acting prime minister Michael McCormack did little to rebuke the members responsible.

Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who has previously championed the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, posted a link to Facebook on Tuesday examining the impact of mask-wearing on children during the pandemic and likening it to child abuse.

“What other conclusion can be drawn from this first ever published study, other than that forcing children to wear masks is causing massive physical and psychological harm – that can only be defined as child abuse,” Mr Kelly wrote.

The acting prime minister refused to criticise the post and defended the right to post the information.

“Facts sometimes are contentious and what you might think is right, somebody else might think is completely untrue,” Mr McCormack said. “That is part of living in a democratic country.”

The Australia Medical Association (AMA) released its position statement on health literacy this week and its president, Dr Omar Khorshid, explained that the plethora on information online about health and wellbeing was confusing for many people.

“Health literacy is critical to people making informed choices about their health and healthcare and living longer, healthier lives,” Dr Khorshid said. “Many groups in our community already have lower levels of health literacy – people with lower levels of education, from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people who are unemployed, people with disability, and people with lower socio-economic status.

“Traditionally, people have learnt about healthy choices from their families, schools, doctors, and government advertising campaigns. However, people are increasingly seeking information from websites and social media.

“Making reliable health information easily available online has positive effects on people’s health literacy.

“But the internet has the potential to significantly magnify health misinformation campaigns, as people can easily absorb misinformation delivered directly to them through advertising, celebrity influencers, and people in positions of power.

“We have seen this with the anti-vaccination movement, and the countless conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic that circulate constantly on the internet.”

Dr Khorshid praised the work of some government agencies in trying to shut down misinformation but said a more co-ordinated plan of attack may be necessary.

“The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) does its best to crack down on fraudulent claims about items of clothing or glorified lava lamps being able to repel COVID-19, but more action is needed,” Dr Khorshid explained.

“We need an Australian government-funded campaign to counter this misinformation and promote healthy choices, including information about vaccine safety and the health risks associated with alcohol, junk food, tobacco, and other drugs.

“Social media companies must also acknowledge their responsibility and work actively to counter health misinformation on their platforms.”

The AMA is also calling on all state and territory governments to collaborate with the federal government to extend the current Health Direct website to provide a single, accessible, national source of verified health information. The Victorian and Queensland governments currently do not contribute any funding to Health Direct.

The Consumers Health Forum (CHF) welcomed the AMA’s position statement on health literacy as an important recognition of the need for strong public support for people to have access to valid health information.

“CHF has long argued for more focus on health literacy to ensure people understand their own health and care needs, so they have the power to make the best decisions for their health,” CHF chief executive Leanne Wells said.

“In the internet era when so much good and bad information floods people’s screens, there is a need for a healthy information culture to overcome fake health news.

“We agree with the AMA that doctors, and health systems, have a vital role to play in improving health literacy by communicating effectively and sensitively with patients, encouraging discussion, and providing information that is understandable and relevant.

“We would support the AMA’s call for an Australian government-funded campaign to counter this misinformation and promote healthy choices … But to be effective the campaign must have active involvement of consumers.

“Health literacy is vital to consumers’ capacity to manage and feel in control of their health care. As one of the blueprint authors said, right now, up to 60 per cent of Australians appear to lack the capacity to access, understand, appraise and use crucial information to make health-related decisions.”

Do you think the government should do more to tackle health misinformation on the internet in the current environment?

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Written by Ben


Total Comments: 17
  1. 1

    The Australia Medical Association (AMA) would do well to focus its attention inside and publicly respond to the constant trickle of claims coming from the profession in Australia and overseas that contradict the government policy. These contrariarians only add credibility to the FUD around advice and encourage BS promoters like Kelly suffering relevance deprivation. In the current news cycle it takes only hours to find some ‘expert’ to question the latest government decision. Few would give credence to the nut jobs if not for credible sources also casting doubt on official ‘expert’ opinions and advice.

  2. 0

    Big IT will do absolutely nothing to limit or remove potentially harmful health information. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all encourage so called ‘ influencers’ to promote antivax propaganda. And the problem is people are too stupid to ignore unqualifed wives of footballers, a chef with very dubious ‘ beliefs (he doesn’t ‘ believe’ in COVID-19), and pouty, ‘look-at-me-women with no skills except that of getting people to pay them for exhibiting body parts.

    With Google currently hiding local news content from Australians, The AMA has its work cut out persuading social media Barons to do the right thing and at least promote reliable health advice over the ramblings of nobodies famous for nothing more than being famous.

  3. 2

    And closer to home, the article today about Vitamin D being a possible assist in the cure of COVID-19 could be cancelled.

  4. 1

    The first thing the PM and Deputy PM should do is grow a pair and put a muzzle on Kelly and Christensen. It amuses me when obese people such as those two, as well as Trump and Palmer, try to make out they are medical experts. They certainly don’t look like they know much about being healthy.

  5. 4

    Three cheers to Craig Kelly for telling it like it is! As for our CMO Prof Paul Kelly, he doesn’t know the difference between when a jury is in or out – as he told a news conference recently: “Hydroxychloroquin is a very safe drug… I took it for years … but when it comes to Covid, the jury is out – it doesn’t work”.
    Well many recent international studies along with Yale University entomologist Professor Harvey Risch have found it to be very effective in early stage treatment. Australia’s own respected entomologist Professor Thomas Borody has also found another very safe drug, Ivermectin, to also be very effective.
    Now some medical experts say the AstraZeneca vaccine which Australia is pinning it’s hopes on is only 60-70% effective. They have no idea of whether it will stop transmission or what the long term effects might be but “Trust us, it’s perfectly safe”.
    Good luck with that, so long as they don’t try to force anyone in any age group or profession to have it.

    • 2

      Quote from The Lancet:

      “Early on in the pandemic, hydroxychloroquine was suggested as a possible prevention method or treatment for COVID-19, given evidence of in-vitro inhibition of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2),2 propelling this mainstay treatment of rheumatic diseases to prominence and controversy. However, multiple high-quality studies subsequently showed no benefit of hydroxychloroquine use as post-exposure prophylaxis3 or as a COVID-19 treatment.”

    • 0

      Jan 14. NIH Revises Treatment Guidelines for Ivermectin for the Treatment of NIH Revises Treatment Guidelines for Ivermectin for the Treatment of COVID-19
      Ivermectin is Now a Therapeutic Option for Doctors & Prescribers! –

    • 2

      And that article from the Lancet has since been discredited. But there’s no money to be made from safe generic drugs that have been available for many years. Hence the bans.

  6. 2

    Definitely needed. I’m fed up reading inaccurate information. Should have been done long ago.
    It’s dangerous that people will believe information detrimental to their health.

  7. 0

    Social Media …just one of the modern day extensions of today’s world injected into a so called democratic free speech society and you complain about misinformation!!!.
    What do you expect? Human nature to actually voluntarily conform?.
    “ Once you tolerate something you will never change it”
    Also the AMA should get their own house in order before dispensing advice to others.

  8. 1

    It’s only “misinformation” when it goes against the so called government experts even when it is emanating from highly qualified medical experts who hold a different opinion, such as senior entomologists Prof Thomas Borody re Ivermectin or Prof Harvey Risch re HCQ. Treatment should be up to the doctor and patient, not some government edict.

  9. 1

    Hydroxychloroquine has been used widely around the world for some time in treating such as malaria and lupus, so why it is unsafe for use against Covid is something which its critics need to explain, particularly when it is being used effectively in India and a number of other countries.
    The Lancet’s criticism of HCQ had to be withdrawn after much publicity. By comparison, “major studies out of New York, Spain, Switzerland, Michigan, Belgium and elsewhere have providing compelling evidence that the drug, particularly in combination with azithromycin and zinc has been saving lives.”

  10. 1

    I abhor censorship. The medical fraternity are treating us in a very patronising way. Many of us have the intelligence to be able to read medical journals and discern truth from disinformation. We do not wish to be censored. The public should be able to discuss and question vaccinations, particularly as the government has given complete freedom from liability to the vaccine manufacturers and if you get injured you get peanuts and cannot sue. We are slowly becoming aware that the MRNA vaccines can cause severe side effects including death. The government talks about making these vaccines mandatory in order to travel, go in public places etc when so far there is no evidence that these vaccines stop transmission. Recent headlines should be a warning to us all.
    “Fifty-five people in the United States have died after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, according to reports submitted to a federal system.
    Deaths have occurred among people receiving both the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, according to the reports.”

    In addition to the deaths, people have reported 96 life-threatening events following COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as 24 permanent disabilities, 225 hospitalizations, and 1,388 emergency room visits.



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