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Medical misinformation or ‘fake news’ is not a new phenomenon. However, with the internet, and in particular social media, everyone has a platform to express their opinions and thoughts, which are not necessarily fact-checked. Consequently, health misinformation can spread rapidly online causing damage on a global scale and affecting many industries. The pharmaceutical industry is no exception to becoming a victim of fake news, and thus, it can become a challenge for stakeholders to discern which messages are true, and which are false.

The impact of fake news on the pharmaceutical industry

On a daily basis, the pharmaceutical industry is battling fake news to ensure their patients have the correct information for making informed decisions about their health. From anti-vaccination movements to deadly ‘miracle’ cures to ‘the truth about cancer’, when it comes to their health, people can be extremely vulnerable to accepting inaccurate and misleading information; potentially leading to very dangerous consequences. Furthermore, contradictory information available to patients online can not only cause confusion and misunderstanding about important medical topics, such as possible treatment options, but can also lead to patients developing heightened suspicion and mistrust in the pharmaceutical industry. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the spreading of fake news, especially on social media, reached new heights. The WHO stated that the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘the first pandemic in history in which technology and social media are being used on a massive scale to keep people safe, informed and connected’. However, at the same time, that same technology and social media is enabling and amplifying an ‘infodemic’ – an overabundance of information, which people are left to swim through, or rather scroll through, on their own. For example, vaccine hesitancy has been shown to be influenced by a number of factors including, social media and online misinformation, not only for COVID-19 but vaccines in general; with the WHO stating that vaccine hesitancy is ‘a top ten global threat to public health’. 

Simply put, what is the impact of false information, or fake news, on the pharmaceutical industry? It costs lives.

Examples of health-related fake news

There are numerous examples of fake news, misinformation, and disinformation that have been debunked by public health experts and the medical community, including:

  • Exposing yourself to the sun or temperatures higher than 25 degrees, or injecting yourself with bleach cures and/or prevents COVID-19 (World Health Organization)
  • 5G cellular network caused or exacerbated symptoms of COVID-19 (BBC News, 2020)
  • “Scientists had ‘proven’ that those vaccinated with Zostavax can infect the unvaccinated with chickenpox”. Read more about the misinformation that encircled Zostavax .

The ways to help fight against pharma fake news

When it comes to spotting fake news in healthcare, healthcare professionals (HCPs) play a powerful role in highlighting misinformation and help amplify the truth through their social media networks. To combat medical misinformation surrounding a number of therapy areas, HCPs have jumped on platforms such as TikTok and YouTube to provide a trusted source of information. For example, Dr Khalid posted an informative video to Youtube debunking the many myths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Sometimes it can be hard to spot the true story amongst the ‘fake’ ones, but credibility can be added to the information by doing a little bit of homework or ‘fact-checking’, ensuring you know and understand who the source and/or author is. Furthermore, by not only monitoring but also actively listening to online conversations within the healthcare community, it may be possible to identify if any unreputable or false sources are influencing these communities and potentially put into action a rapid response to help combat that fake news.

Another way to fight against fake news is to use services like those developed by CREATION.co.

How can social media monitoring and CREATION.co help you detect and combat fake news?

Social media monitoring is one of the best ways to find out what people are saying about your products and treatments. At CREATION.co, we’ve been tracking the rise of online disinformation, misinformation and fake news for several years, and in 2019 we reflected on the UK Government’s statement that disinformation posed a threat to democracy itself.

At CREATION.co we can detect fake news, identify where misinformation is being spread from and pinpoint information gaps. Thanks to CREATION Pinpoint®, a unique global database of more than 3 million human-verified HCP online profiles combined with advanced analytics techniques, we have developed a five-step methodology to rapidly identify misinformation associated with any product or therapy area of your choice, as well as identify areas where information is lacking. Ultimately, this allows you to identify potentially dangerous fake news events and subsequently, plan an appropriate intervention or response. For more information visit our Fake news Detection page.