As doctors and public health officials coast-to-coast battle infectious outbreaks — of measles, mumps, meningitis, whooping cough, influenza, as well as typhus, hepatitis, and TB — the nation is also struggling with the right response for yet another contagion: the viral spread of medical misinformation on social media.
Medical nonsense isn’t new, and savvy patient-consumers long have needed to do a little work to protect themselves from what can be its real and significant harms. But a season of rapidly spreading and 100% preventable infectious diseases has forced modern medicine to confront generational dilemmas with health disinformation that is “shared” widely online and especially via social media.
For the rising generation that now parents youngsters who need and should be vaccinated, social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, as well as information searches via Google have become as ordinary and accepted as once were daily newspapers and the 6 o’clock TV news. But cyber world’s ubiquity also has allowed counter factual, unfounded, nonscientific, and extreme notions to proliferate, as users of all kinds “create content” online. This has fueled the dangerous normalizing and further rise of the anti-vaccination or anti-vaxxer movement.