Facebook Emerging as Leading News Source. How Do You Know You Can Trust It?
A guide to finding credible pediatric health information online
A friend tagged you on Facebook to read an article. Your child has been sick and the story seems to match her illness. But is it accurate?
New research from Ogilvy, an advertising, marketing and public relations agency found that reporters and editors believe Facebook is the number one gatekeeper for news (39 percent).
Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation discovered that more than 40 percent of American adults get their news on Facebook.
You may have accessed this article from Facebook. Facebook has become an essential tool for us reaching a large audience. Checkupnewsroom.com has been viewed more than 10 million times and seen in 120 different countries in a little over three years. This month alone, more than 137,000 visitors have accessed this page for health-related topics.
We post our Checkup Newsroom articles on Facebook (and Twitter) every day. But we also take extra precaution to make sure the stories are accurate and approved by board certified physicians or our experts for a particular topic.
“It’s so important for today’s physicians to make sure they use digital platforms such, as Facebook, to reach parents and provide helpful and accurate information,” said Justin Smith, M.D., medical director of digital health and a pediatrician at Cook Children’s. “Parents are so busy these days and sometimes it’s difficult to make sure what you are reading is accurate. Trusting Internet sources for you or your child’s health without verifying their accuracy can be dangerous. Ultimately the best source of information for you and your child will be your doctor. They know your health history and medications that allow them to provide the best advice, but sites like our Checkup newsroom can be a great resource for today’s busy parents.”
So how do we know what you find out there on Facebook and through online searching is accurate?
“Type ‘RSV’ into a search engine and you’ll come up with millions of hits,” said Barbara Steffensen, MSLIS, family librarian at Cook Children’s. “You have to figure out which results are authoritative, which are commercial and which would apply to children rather than adults. Filtering all of those options can be a complex task for parents who want reliable information quickly.”
A few tips can help you simplify your search and find information on your children that you can trust.
Consider the source
A website’s domain name can tell you a lot about its credibility. Typically, you can’t go wrong with health information websites that end in “.org” and “.gov.”
Nonprofit, nongovernmental research, advocacy, education and health professional organizations are generally excellent resources that tend to have “.org” endings. The sites with “.gov” means you are visiting a United States government site.
Colleges and universities also can be good sources; identify their websites by looking for “.edu.” at the end.
So what about checkupnewsroom.com, the site you are reading this on right now? We publish a story almost daily, but not until it goes through an approval process. All of the articles on this site are either written by or approved by the sources of the story before anything is published, the same as when you visit Cook Children’s website, www.cookchildrens.org.
Otherwise domain names ending in “.com” or “.net” can be tricky. Online encyclopedias and for-profit websites are acceptable to use for the most basic information, such as the definition of a disease, but shouldn’t be consulted for much else.
“Many people look at blogs and social media when seeking health information, which is not a good practice,” Steffensen said. “Your child’s experience may be quite different from that of the blogger’s, even if the diagnoses are the same. Nonmedical professionals’ perspectives can be worthwhile, but they shouldn’t provide your go-to advice.”
A well-designed website can mask flawed information. Before you dive into the material, find and read the site’s “About Us” tab or an equivalent to learn about the organization behind the digital portal.
“Recently, I was searching for information online about a topic that isn’t covered in our library,” Steffensen said. “I found a beautiful page, but when I checked into it, I found it was produced by a law firm.”
Look for red flags
If you open a website and find it difficult to see past the explosion of advertisements to find the content you’re looking for, it’s time to hit the “back” button.
“Lots of ads are a sure sign that a website isn’t a good resource,” Steffensen said. “If the site has ads all over the place, endorsements from pharmaceutical companies or solicitations for donations, searchers should be concerned, even if the material looks credible.”
Read the fine print
Comb articles you can find online for easy-to-miss details that are important clues to reliability. Is the author a medical professional? When did he or she write the article? Was the piece reviewed by such an individual and how recently?
Many families want to know as much as they can about their child's health and wellness, and that’s great. What would be better still is for parents and caregivers to have peace of mind in knowing the information they gather is solid.
For more information
Need accurate health information that you can trust? Visit Cook Children's Education Resources page. Do you have questions about an illness or condition? About how to keep your child healthy and safe? Where you can find health information you can trust? Let us help. Click here to learn about the Matustik Family Health Library, located at the medical center.