Dr. Mona's Mom Blog

How to spot misinformation online and why it’s so frustrating

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from a Pediatrician mom

As a Pediatrician, I have spent 10 years studying medicine and practicing medicine. It’s this combination of education AND clinical practice that makes it easy for me to spot misinformation on social media. 

Child health and wellness is very important to me and educating parents about their children’s well-being is my passion. As a mother myself, my advice is vested in doing things and advising things that I would also do for my own child. 

I know what I know and speak on those topics. 

If I don’t know about a subject I either don’t speak about it or invite a guest (who is more of an expert than me) on my podcast to discuss it more with them. 

So when I joined Instagram three years ago, I was shocked to see the amount of misinformation out there for parents. Not only was I upset to see people pose themselves as an authority on a subject they have no authority in; I was concerned about the parents (especially new parents) consuming this content and feeling like they are doing everything wrong or they are harming their child. 

There are two pieces of education you can get online and on social media—parenting advice and medical education. 

Parenting advice sometimes doesn’t have research to back it up. 

We do have some research in parenting, but some of it is skewed to support the researcher’s bias. (Think: sleep training studies). 

When it comes to parenting, it really comes down to listening to what feels right to you. To think about the whys behind parenting advice you are given. 

Unfortunately, we may never have perfect research studies for all parenting principles because parenting is largely a big picture with many variables. But, it’s important to remember this as you consume content.

If any parenting style is ever saying hitting is okay and yelling is a preferred way to discipline; I would stay clear. If a style is shaming other parents for their parenting styles, I would also stay clear. Besides that, as long as the education is coming from a place of love—I encourage you to enjoy learning about different parenting philosophies to find the best style for you.

But, then there’s medical misinformation.

And boy does this run rampant on the internet (and social media). Search engines are phenomenal, but only if you know how to objectively understand the information and understand nuance.

When consuming content on the internet, make sure you do a few things;

Try to limit searching in the middle of the night when your anxiety is high. You will likely go down a rabbit hole secondary to sleep deprivation that will make you panic more. Random internet searches will do little to help your anxiety in the middle of the night. I am hoping to make my website a search engine on all popular topics to limit the rabbit hole searches. But, that will take a while. In the meantime, make sure you only go to reputable sites such as children’s hospitals with updated blogs if you must search at night. Most ideal would be to call your doctor’s office emergency line if you’re really concerned and it can’t wait until morning.  

Check the source. Is the person a political activist with no background in science? RED FLAG. Does the person ask for donations to keep funding their website or YouTube channel that is about to be shut down for misinformation? RED FLAG. Has the “expert” been under investigation or has lost their license due to malpractice? RED FLAG. Does the person add research links (not just screenshots) to their audacious claim? If not, RED FLAG. Can the person explain nuance (how to interpret this advice and bridge it to clinical practice? If not, RED FLAG. Does the person have a background or a degree in the topic they are discussing? If not, RED FLAG. 

Is there a conflict of interest: Is the person saying that a certain medicine is unsafe, but encouraging you to purchase their essential oils? RED FLAG. Is the person saying something is harming your child and selling you something out of guilt? RED FLAG. If the person has a vested financial interest in their point of view that seems like an outlier in the topic they are discussing, this is likely misinformation.

How strong is the evidence to support their claims? Many research studies have been done, but not all are peer-reviewed. Peer-reviewed means that other experts in the field have looked at that research to see if there are limitations to the study, comments on those limitations, and agrees this is an area of adequate research (or needs further evaluation). Not all research is created equal. In many situations in science, “further research” may be necessary. This means that we can look at a research study and change best practices weighing risk and benefit clinically until more research comes out. This is what practicing physicians do every day. We understand when there are major updates and will pivot if modification is needed. 

Is the source sharing someone’s story to further their agenda? Individual stories matter, but many times stories are twisted on the internet to further an agenda. It’s important to know the source of the story. As an example, so many stories have been taken by anti-vaxxers where the stories are not related to vaccines at all. It makes it very difficult for parents when misinformation spreads this way. Causation is different than correlation. Causation means X caused Y, whereas correlation means Y happened around the time of X: could it be a coincidence or related? That is up to the medical team to dig into (which we do!). 

Look at things objectively. Sometimes as new parents we forget our innate ability to look at both sides. It’s important to look at content as objectively as possible. Does it make sense? Are their holes to this story? Does this make sense to me as a parent? Does this align with my own parenting philosophies?  When something sounds very radical; it probably is. 

Fighting misinformation on social media is a full-time job.

Just because someone has 500k followers or 1 million followers doesn’t mean everything they say is medically accurate. My hope is to continue to platform to debunk misinformation and make you sleep easier at night with common sense education. 

Here are some posts that can help explain misinformation circling recently on social media:

Misinformation about Tylenol being harmful. It’s not when used as needed.
Misinformation about the Rubella vaccine.  

And finally, don’t forget to place a call to Monday Mornings with Dr. Mona at call 954-526-2641, and leave a message with any concerns or topics you want me to discuss!

You can also join The New Mom’s Survival Guide, it’s here for you with guides, courses and a community!

PS: I have a multitude of topics I discuss on my Pedsdoctalk Youtube Channel – subscribe today to never miss an episode!

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All information presented on this blog, my Instagram, and my podcast is for educational purposes and should not be taken as personal medical advice. These platforms are to educate and should not replace the medical judgment of a licensed healthcare provider who is evaluating a patient.

It is the responsibility of the guardian to seek appropriate medical attention when they are concerned about their child.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or hospitals I may be affiliated with.