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Health News Isn’t Immune to Fake News: 1 in 3 Americans Don’t Trust Health News Sites

Fake news. In many ways, it’s a 21st century propaganda scheme — a “hot” topic from late 2016 that’s still gaining traction.

Healthline asked 1,278 Americans from across the country about their thoughts on fake news and if they trust health news. Almost half (44 percent) lack trust in health news, or news related to treatments, medications, or products. Three in five (64 percent) reported they’ve visited a fake news site, but 15 percent aren’t sure if they’ve visited a site or not.

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Fake or real?

The Healthline survey revealed that deciphering the real stuff from the fake fluff isn’t easy.

Americans use a set of benchmarks to detect if something seems off or fishy. These benchmarks include:

  • who is quoted in an article
  • inclusion of a list of benefits and risks
  • whether the article has statistically backed claims
  • exclusion of product endorsements

Other important considerations relate to objectivity and data. Of course, taking all of this into consideration when glancing at a story from your iPhone takes time — and who has extra time to spare? After all, the average time spent on an article is less than 15 seconds.

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How does health news stack up?

Of course, it isn’t just health news that faces forgery claims. According to Google News, more than 6.5 million (yes, million) news articles on fake news have been published within the last few months. The search skyrocketed in January 2017, likely due to President Trump’s inauguration. The search term “health fake news,” in comparison, doesn’t have enough data to display results.

Our survey found that 72 percent of those polled are confident in the accuracy of the news they see on TV, read online or in print, or hear on the radio. This compares to 68 percent of respondents who are confident in the accuracy of the health news related to treatments, medications, or products.

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What’s the big deal?

About 64 percent were annoyed by visiting a fake health news site, and they should be. When it comes to health, being led in the wrong direction can have a BIG impact. It could result in undergoing an unnecessary treatment.

But what’s even more upsetting is how fake news affects not only readers, but also their loved ones: About one-third of these individuals (33 percent) say that fake news can hurt someone they love.

Still, 52 percent say that fake political news is the most harmful. (That’s the exact same disapproval rating that Americans had leading up to President Trump’s inauguration earlier this year.)

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Now what?

With fake news showing up in our social media feeds, it can feel like there’s no hope for regular news readers who just want to know the latest about treatments, medications, and other health-related insights. But that’s simply not true. "Fake health news is especially alarming because its creators insert an official sounding statement into their statements and people fall for it," said Nan-Kirsten Forte, Healthline SVP of Brand Marketing. "It's our job as a credible news source to educate readers on how to check sourcing and verify where the study backing the claims originate from." 

The Healthline survey was conducted March 30 to April 2, 2017, among a national sample of 1,278 Americans. The sample was recruited from a national panel, SurveyMonkey Contribute. Findings are statistically significant at a 95 percent confidence level, yielding a 3 percent margin of error.

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