Editorials

Pollution of health news

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j1262 (Published 15 March 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j1262
  1. Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview.org
  1. 1University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis, MN, USA
  1. schwitz{at}umn.edu

Time to drain the swamp

US President Donald Trump placed the term fake news in the global lexicon with his repeated criticism of journalism that doesn’t suit him. But with the viral spread of that term, many now apply it to what is actually sloppy journalism. Fake denotes deliberate deceit. Sloppy refers to a much broader range of hurried, incomplete, poorly researched news, not necessarily with deceitful intent. They are different problems with different sources and require different solutions.

Journalists and public health officials have shown that Trump has promoted fake news about health and health policy with, for example, his statements about vaccines and autism.1 His recent State of the Union address included false assertions about the Affordable Care Act23 and the US Food and Drug Administration.45

The democratisation of the internet delivers the unfortunate side effect of allowing fake health news to be spread by websites that deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation as real news—often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect.6 One newspaper analysis stated, “Misinformation …

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