Recently, we shared some of the good and bad ways social media can impact people’s health with you. Now we’re focusing on some of the uglier, more hidden sides of social media.
Probably not a newsflash – but not everything on the internet is true, even if it comes from a great source. Combine this with amount of personal data being shared, and the result is false or misleading content that eerily speaks directly to us and elevates our emotions.
Three of the most common tools used in targeting are clickbait, misleading information, and promotional content. While clickbait and promotional content are not always used in an unethical manner, it’s important to be aware of when it can impact your health.
Clickbait is an attention-grabbing header that tries to convince you to read more. Advertisers have so much information on most people that they know exactly how to hone in on our own insecurities or concerns in just a few words. A headline like “Is your store-bought shampoo linked to ADHD?” is targeted to the concerned parent, or “You won’t believe how this woman lost 200 pounds” is targeted to the woman struggling with her own weight loss.
In the eyes of the person writing it, the best clickbait is the kind that gets shared, and clickbait that makes you feel strong emotions (like anger) are most likely to be shared. Constantly feeling these strong emotions is not healthy for our overall mental well-being and that of our social media circles.
- False or misleading information
Sometimes, with or without clickbait, we are presented with inaccurate or confusing health information. It’s difficult to identify what’s true.
It’s important to do your own health research. Here are a few generally trusted sources regarding health:
- The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH) has a great article to help you find and evaluate online health resources.
- https://www.powerofvitality.com/vitality/login(For our members – visit the health profile section to see information related to your health and the Health Resources section for a range of other topics.)
The impact of false information on health extends far outside health-related articles and research. Like clickbait, companies use information to target us, to know what makes us tick, and to talk to us to elevate our emotions. Some organizations provide false or misleading information that cause us stress or anger– which means we are more likely to share. Spreading false information can hurt our existing social relationships online and offline.
Identifying misinformation and its sources is not straightforward. Here are two groups helping social media users become more empowered:
- The Harvard Kennedy School offers a free online course to help you identify misinformation. No time for a course? They developed a quiz so you can test your skills. (Full disclaimer: This quiz is tough!)
- Snopes.com vets and validates viral posts, like the diabetes vaccine .
Most of the time, it’s best to quit following the organization or individual posting false information. However, if you are receiving it from a close friend who is re-posting or re-tweeting it, you may want to reach out to the individual offline or via a private message to let them know that their information is inaccurate. Chances are they don’t know it’s false.
- Promotional content
Be cautious of sources with something to sell or other hidden motives. This could be an obvious advertisement from a company, but it could be your trusted friend selling products via Facebook. Regardless of who is selling or recommending something to you, go to a trusted health source or health provider to learn more. Yes, the before and after photos may look promising, but that does not prove that the product will work for you, is healthy or is worth the cost. And there’s nothing wrong with the motivation of supporting a friend, just make sure you do so in a way that doesn’t negatively impact your health or financial status.
The darkest side of social media
Social media has a much darker side due to the lack of regulations and inability to moderate such a large amount of content. Things like cyberbullying, harassment, and revenge content hurt the well-being of all that experience it. The risk is even bigger for our children as it can impact their emotional and brain development. There’s even disturbing and inappropriate content targeted to children on two popular kids apps, YouTube kids and Musical.ly. Those companies are struggling to remove and prevent this type of content from being on their platform.
Do what’s right for you
To protect your health, recognize when social media is causing more stress than happiness and make changes. Many recommend removing yourself completely, but given how intertwined social media is in our lives, this may not be feasible for everyone to do. If you cannot remove social media from your life, you can try to limit the time you spend on it and be more skeptical of what you read and see.
And always protect your privacy and value your data. Review and update your privacy settings on each social media channel you use. Think twice before you give permission to a third party. At Vitality, we treat your data and privacy seriously.
Lori Serradas, inventor of the Vitality Squares game, spends her days studying the intersection of health and tech.
Cheryl Jacobs, social media maven, is the proud mom of two babies: her 18-month-old daughter and eight-year old dog. She spends her free time chasing after the toddler who is chasing after the dog.