Intended for healthcare professionals


Against internet exceptionalism

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 09 March 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:556

There's nothing radically different about information on the web

  1. Sasha Shepperd (, senior research fellow,
  2. Deborah Charnock, research fellow
  1. Department of Primary Care, University of Oxford, Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford OX3 7LF

    The sheer novelty of the internet continues to colour discussions of it. Attention paid to online health information invariably focuses on how it differs from what has gone before rather than how it has remained the same. Certainly, the internet provides swift access to large amounts of information that previously required determined tracking. Users can communicate rapidly through email, chat rooms, and other internet forums. And it is remarkably easy to publish and disseminate information, with little accountability.1 But are these enough to justify the belief that information retrieved via the internet differs radically from what has gone before, requiring an exceptional response?

    The combination of rapid access and wide dissemination makes it easy to understand the appeal of initiatives aimed at limiting access to misleading or inaccurate information on health. Allowing users to judge at a glance the quality of such information by the use of labels has been widely …

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