The internet is an amazing thing. It may seem like a cliché, but information travels faster than it ever has. This is one of the great triumphs in human history—right up there with movable type and the vaccine. But the speedy spread of information has its downsides, too. As Mark Twain once famously said, “A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” That has never been more true than today.
But did you know that fake news can affect your health? It’s true, and the phenomenon of harmful fake news is worth exploring.
Fake news is often scary, and it can stress you out
Fake news thrives in environments in which people are as confused as they are scared. As this great PBS story documents, no story fit this description better than the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Few understood the disease, which has been a problem in parts of Africa for some time. But Ebola was scary precisely because it was as unfamiliar as it was new. According to the PBS story, dozens of stories were circulated by fake news websites like National Report. Stories with headlines like “Texas Town Quarantined After Family Of Five Test Positive For The Ebola Virus” were shared hundreds of thousands of times. Many who read those stories believed them, and they freaked out. Justifiably so.
Unfortunately, freaking out is not great for your health. Stress can lead to all sorts of negative health consequences, like high blood pressure and even depression. There’s simply no reason to put yourself through the emotional roller coaster of a fake news story.
How to avoid the fake news trap
Luckily, there is a cure for the disease of fake news. The more reliable the place from which you get information, the less likely you will believe the online hoax shared by a Facebook friend. Journalistic institutions like the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, CNN, and The New Yorker—to name just a few—practice journalistic ethics. They do not publish information without being able to back it up with multiple sources. When they make mistakes, they correct them. They are not in it just for the clicks, and they certainly do not publish stories with the sole purpose of inspiring shock and awe. Don’t put your trust in a website you’ve never heard of. Don’t get swindled by fake news. It can only hurt you.
Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and it is not meant to be relied on as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult your physician before starting any exercise or dietary program or taking any other action respecting your health. In case of a medical emergency, call 911.