Facebook and YouTube are being flooded with posts that offer potentially harmful information about alternative cancer treatments.
The report, which was released Tuesday and highlights the spread of misinformation, comes from The Wall Street Journal, which dug into the topics of medicine and cures.
The media outlet found that these posts often appear alongside ads, videos or pages for proven treatments and are viewed millions of times. In many instances, a search isn’t needed. The information can serve up based on keywords in a post.
Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are making it more difficult to search for false content by relying on information from the World Health Organization to help them identify it. Facebook uses technology to flag the misinformation and move the claim in the content lower in the news feed. Facebook also removes it from search recommendations.
YouTube also continues to guide people to sources that allow them to fact-check the information for themselves, but as of Monday the WSJ found a post for a “cell-killing, or necrotizing, ointment called black salve to treat skin cancer.”
David Gorski, a professor of surgery at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, told the WSJ that “use of the ointment can inadvertently burn or kill healthy skin, and doesn’t remove cancerous growths beneath the skin.”
Pinterest in February stopped serving up results on the topic of vaccinations in an attempt to control what it called unsubstantiated claims about health issues. Site users were able to pin vaccine-related images to their online boards that might lead to suggestions for similar content, but the posts stopped serving up in searches.
Baidu in 2016 began screening for misleading information after Wei Zexi, a college sophomore, died from following misleading cancer treatment advice in an advertisement that served up in the search engine’s query results.
Chinese officials, which wanted the search engine to do more to protect its citizens, investigated the situation and ordered Baidu to change the way it displayed and labeled information pertaining to medical advice.
Misinformation, however, extends much further than false medical claims. Misinformation also has permeated politics, as several people have recently acknowledged to me, but that’s a topic for another time.