How To Spot Health Misinformation and What To Do About It, According To Experts


By: Adebowale BelloFreelance Health Writer, with medical review and editorial support by The Datelinehealth Africa Team.


Spot and Fight Health Misinformation

Spot and Fight Health Misinformation. Photo by Surface on Unsplash





Recall that text message or passionately delivered video you just read or watched on TikTok, WhatsApp, Facebook or similar platforms touting the health benefits of this and that, or the causes of a disease.


You are directed to take immediate action; share, share, share now, to save mankind!


Most of these social media based text, videos and podcasts have been shown to contain a lot of health misinformation that are passed off to many non-discerning minds as facts.


How can you identify health misinformation and what can you do about it? These are what an expert panel of the American Psychological Association looked into and advised on.


Their findings and recommendations are described here and could help prevent you from being sucked into embracing and promoting health misinformation. Read on. 



What Is Health Misinformation?


According to a 2022 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, misinformation was defined as false or inaccurate information deliberately intended to deceive.


This implies that health misinformation is the spread of false health news to people. It is of grave importance because this misinformation could lead to injury, disability or even loss of lives. 


Hence, the increased need to refute inaccurate information while replacing it with evidence-based information.



Internet As a Platform For Information Dissemination and Access


In recent years, the Internet has been a great tool for dissemination and access to diverse information and news. This has led to an increase in the rate and ease at which information is spread. But it also has caused other collateral problems. 


The quick spread of information occasioned by the Internet has meant that information and more particularly health information as in the subject matter may not have been thoroughly fact checked before millions of people have access to it. Thus, many people become victims of health misinformation more often than they realise.


Once an incorrect information spreads, it's usually extremely difficult to correct the widespread misinformation. Thankfully, experts at the American Psychological Association (APA) have found several ways to counter misinformation effectively.



How And Why Do People Believe Health Misinformation?


  • Impulsive Attraction To Call To Action


As a human, when you receive information, you may rarely focus on the accuracy of the information. Rather, your first thoughts may centre on finding reasons to take action based on what you've read, seen or heard regardless of its accuracy.


According to the APA report, older American adults (65 and above) are more susceptible to sharing false information, though interestingly the report also states that they are quicker at identifying misinformation than younger people. The reason why this contrast exists in older persons hasn't been fully understood.

  • Emotional Tie To “Tribal” Source


Another reason why you may be prone to misinformation occurs when you receive such news from a "trusted" source, i.e. your “tribe”, especially when such information is against another entity or organization which you don't like.

  • Appeal to Personal Bias


Misinformation has been found to have a great impact on people's behaviours, attitudes, intentions and beliefs and it thrives because it plays on individual bias while also triggering strong human emotions like fear, surprise and anger.


Tools To Counter Health Misinformation


The APA report suggests various ways to counter misinformation such as debunking, prebunking and nudging.

  • Debunking


Debunking is the correction of misinformation and replacement with factual and accurate information. It is more effective when there is an explanation on why the false information is wrong and it replaces the falsity with evidence and facts. 


You do not have to be a national information channel to engage in debunking. You could use the same social media or legacy platforms on which a health misinformation is shared with you, to debunk it. 


The APA report emphasises that persistent and repetitive fact checking promotes accurate information to sink into people's hearts.

  • Prebunking


Prebunking refers to a variety of strategies that can be put in place to prevent people from believing future misinformation. Prebunking or its alternative term “inoculation” debunks lies, tactics or sources before they strike.


Prebunking can be text-based, video-based or even game-based interventions and has been shown through research to have positive effects such as reducing people's willingness to share misinformation and improving their ability to recognize misinformation quickly.


  • Nudging


Nudging involves gradually altering people's behaviour without making any noticeable changes to other variables. It aims to make people more aware of the accuracy of the information that they consume and to ensure they share content from high-quality news sources. 


What You Can Do To Tackle Health Misinformation


Here are a few recommendations culled from the expert report of the APA that you should keep in mind in fighting health misinformation:

  • Build awareness of reputable and trusted sources of health information and use them as sources to counter misinformation. Trusted sources are commonly not for profit academic institutions, governmental agencies, national database and libraries, etc.
  • Debunk misinformation often by only sharing information from trusted sources.
  • Aim to correct misinformation and not to repeat it.
  • Use misinformation correction tools that are proven to promote healthy behaviors (e.g., counseling, skills training, incentives, etc.).
  • On social media, don't be quick to forward news that trigger strong emotions in you, it might just be false.
  • You can counter (prebunk) misinformation before it occurs by posting factual health pieces repeatedly.





Health misinformation is common on the Internet and even in some mainstream print media. You can learn skills to spot and fight them.




American Psychological Association. (2023). Using Psychological Science to Understand and Fight Health Misinformation. Available from: Accessed December 6, 2023.



Related: Should You Take Health Advice from Tiktok? Study says Verify First!




Published: December 8, 2023

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