I’ve become aware of an unsettling phenomenon, which doesn’t seem to be settling down. It all came to a head in one week, where across various social media channels and WhatsApp groups’ posts, I saw various articles. One post publicised the miracle-working power of ingesting multitudes of apple and apricot seeds. Another declared that Michael Jordan was dead. That one was followed a couple of days later by a request from a Consultant Paediatrician of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Ghana, asking receivers of the message to refer any child they knew who had heart disease to the hospital for free heart surgery.
It struck me how easily people accepted these and many more similar posts as gospel, where a simple google search or a couple of minutes of thought would easily disprove the ‘information’. But even that seems beyond so many people, who too eagerly press *send* or *share* or implore their friends to follow the advice.
I have issues with this phenomena which seems to be spreading among our chat groups and social media pages. The first issue is that a lot of the information being peddled is DANGEROUS. I personally don’t have anything against herbal medicines or alternative therapies, as long as they are safe and the evidence base is sound…
…But as a medic I do have an issue with people gladly swallowing wrong information about therapies without consulting professionals or even doing basic research. A quick online search would tell you that the post about apple seeds was basically suicide, as apple seeds contain small amounts of hydrogen cyanide – a poisonous compound which has been used for many a route of suicide in the past. Eating copious seeds regularly would mean you are receiving a regular supply of substantial amounts of cyanide. I’m sure that would please those looking for a remedy for high blood pressure as eventually that would bring both your blood pressure and heart rate to about, um, zero?
The Michael Jordan one was funny. It amused me how loads commented ‘RIP’ (and a couple commented about his awesome contribution to music, which was even more funny for a variety of reasons) – however neither the people sharing nor those commenting stopped once to check SKY News or CNN or Reuters, where such momentous news about the untimely passing of the greatest basketball player of all time would surely be breaking and trumpeted from every news rooftop imaginable. Nah. That would be too much work.
The last example I referred to was a sinister one, because it actually had a foundation upon truth. The Komfo Anokye Hospital has a programme where twice a year, a team from Harvard attend to operate on a pre-selected list of a dozen youngsters free of charge. However, note *pre-selected*. These patients need to be worked-up (bloods, imaging, etc.) and teams of cardiac surgeons discuss who is appropriate for surgery and a group is selected before the team flies over for a session of charity operation. But the post on social media used this as a platform to proclaim free cardiac surgery for any and for all – an obviously impossible venture logistically. And yet it was shared about, without thought. How many people out there would’ve been given a sad shot of hope where there was none?
I have an issue with dangerous information. I have an issue with lazy information. I have an issue with lies. I have an issue with the fact that we now live in a climate where people can Photoshop celebrities into false situations and people can write false stories about fake news, so that even when a real news issue is developing, people are cynical.
Today, anyone with Wi-Fi and any level of literacy can manufacture fake stories. Considering that, it’s important that we read and share responsibly. Getting fooled by misreported information is not something to be ashamed of – it’s happened to almost everyone. It is, however, something that can be easily avoided.
I. Consider the SOURCE of the information. Is there a source? If so, what is it? Is it reputable?
II. Find a SECOND source. Like the Michael Jordan example, if it was real news, alternative sources would not have been in scant supply
III. Check photos. Sometimes photos are allied with irrelevant stories, or are Photoshop jobs. Simply use Google Images search to see where else the images have been used
IV. Share responsibly!
So the next time you come across a post about how Facebook is about to get you to pay membership, or an article about how the next iPhone will cure cancer, let’s do better by stopping and considering the information we receive before freely passing it on to susceptible parties. Let’s end the reign of the hoax and let’s get back to telling the truth – the real truth – again.
By Dr Jermaine Bamfo (@Dr_Jabz27)