Social media giant Facebook and YouTube on Tuesday announced that they were going to take serious action against medical misinformation on their platforms after reports highlighted how “bogus cancer treatment claims” proliferate on social media, AFP reported.
Earlier in the day, The Wall Street Journal published a report based on its own investigation showing the prevalence of fake claims on Facebook and YouTube such as the use of baking soda injections to cure cancer. A week earlier, The Washington Post had reported how hundreds of thousands of cancer patients and their families seek natural alternatives to medical treatment on private Facebook groups.
“Misleading health content is particularly bad for our community,” Travis Yeh, a Facebook product manager, wrote in a blog post. “So, last month we made two ranking updates to reduce (1) posts with exaggerated or sensational health claims and (2) posts attempting to sell products or services based on health-related claims.”
Yeh said these posts would appear in the news feeds of fewer users, and would be less prominent.
YouTube also said that for some time it had been working to reduce the spread of misinformation on its platform. “Misinformation is a difficult challenge and any misinformation on medical topics is especially concerning,” a YouTube spokesperson told AFP.
“We have taken a number of steps to address this including surfacing more authoritative content across our site for people searching for cancer treatment-related topics, beginning to reduce recommendations of certain medical misinformation videos and showing information panels with more sources where they can fact check information for themselves,” the spokesperson added.
The Wall Street Journal report, which quoted doctors, lawyers, and privacy experts, found numerous false and misleading claims online about cancer cures. The report mentioned videos advocating the use of cell-killing ointments that could be dangerous, unverified dietary regimes and unvalidated screening techniques for cancer.
In groups such as “Alternative Cancer Treatments” (7,000 members), “Colloidal Silver Success Stories” (9,000 members) and “Natural healing plus foods” (more than 100,000 members), members trade anecdotes as proof that alternative treatments can cure various cancers and other illnesses, The Washington Post had reported.