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When hope kills: the false promises of social media to cancer patients

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When hope kills: the false promises of social media to cancer patients

“You have to die a little bit to live,” my friend’s husband told me when I started chemotherapy last summer. He had had stage 2 cancer, like me, and I was preparing for how difficult the treatments would be. And he was right: in fact, it was difficult to get my feet through the hospital doors to receive my treatments. I knew this was my best shot, but on some gut level I really wished I didn’t have to.

I shared updates on my cancer treatments with my friends on Facebook and it helped me get encouraged. But something else also happened on my timeline: Facebook’s ad algorithms started targeting cancer ads from scammers selling fake treatments. These companies promised that I could cure my cancer “naturally without toxic chemotherapy or surgery” using IV vitamin therapy that supposedly had “the same mechanism as chemotherapy.” A page called Breast Cancer Conqueror offered a series of personalized supplements and another clinic in Mexico offered intravenous cocktails by the beach that would defeat cancer with “antioxidant properties.” It all sounded good, too good to be true.

I reported the ads to Facebook in the hope that the platform would remove them (it didn’t). I mean wrote about it, joining the legion of voices that raise the alarm about misinformation and misinformation on social media.

A year later, not much has changed on Facebook. While the megacorporation has made promises to try to contain fake news about COVID, still a massive problem on the platform, along with fake cancer news. Although the Center for the Fight Against Digital Hate (CCDH) identified 12 accounts of “super spreaders” of health disinformation on Facebook in March, 59 percent of the content had not yet been removed by July. CCDH reports prompted US President Joe Biden to call Facebook in July: stating to the media that the health misinformation on the platform was “killing people.”

Image of cancer cure claim posted on Facebook. Source: Twitter

In the wild west of social media health misinformation, hope kills. In a big to study Of 1.6 million patients with non-metastatic colorectal or breast cancer, patients were nearly five times more likely to die if they used alternative therapy rather than conventional treatment.

As of July 2021 report Led by the Huntsman Cancer Institute, it noted that a third of the most popular cancer treatment articles on social media contained misinformation, most of which promoted harmful approaches to care. The study also showed that articles that contained misinformation got more clicks and engagement than science-based content.

In a 2020 report, Professors Tamar Wilton and Avery Holden study Nearly 800 Pinterest posts that made factual claims about breast cancer, finding that more than 50 percent contained misinformation, including bogus cures like colloidal silver, dandelion, and green tea, and / or downplaying the role of mammograms in cancer screening. An NBC review in December 2019 he found that much of the most viral health misinformation was about cancer, citing headlines like “Ginger is 10,000 times more effective at killing cancer than chemotherapy” that spawned more than 800,000 interactions. The Wall Street Journal has reported on social media cancer scams, including millions of YouTube video views claiming that cancer can be cured with a highly corrosive black salve described as “Dangerous and Life-threatening” by the US Food and Drug Administration.

While regulators repressed Based on false claims that IV vitamin C therapy prevents COVID infections, marketers continue to promote it as a cure for breast cancer despite some studies showing that it prevents effectiveness of common chemotherapy agents (such as doxorubicin and cisplatin) 30 to 70 percent. Vitamin C infusions can also have a negative effect on breast cancer medications in the long term; a 2014 to study showed that vitamin C “antagonizes the cytotoxic effects of tamoxifen,” making the drug less effective and acting as a “pro-oxidant” that counteracts the benefits of tamoxifen.

For many, it is counterintuitive to think that a vitamin could complicate cancer care. It is difficult to accept that we can be harmed in a painless procedure or that something painful can help us heal. Namely: the healthy choice that keeps us alive doesn’t always feel healthier. Websites like Natural news – and the temptation is real. You can walk into an alternative cancer center with leather chairs and skylights, write your big check, and get applause for your vitamin C injections … or you can crawl down the hospital corridor to get AC chemotherapy followed by (verification notes) crying and vomiting. Some of the best ways to fight cancer also wreak havoc on the body; This fact makes it easier for pseudoscience marketers to attract patients with the illusion of comfort and control.

Several years before I was diagnosed, an acquaintance developed cancer. She turned down a common life-saving surgery and embarked on a journey into the world of vitamin IV therapy, mineral supplements, and so-called “shamans,” traveling to South America in a similar quest to the truth about cancer. One of the last times I spoke to her (shortly after I was diagnosed), she said that she had been told that cancer stems from our own past traumas that we have pushed into ourselves. “We cannot be cured of cancer until we are cured of the emotional pain within us,” he told me. From his perspective, it was an act of kindness to give me this advice. She thought she was helping me cure my cancer.

But in the five years since she turned down the surgery, her cancer had progressed. Soon, he was past the point of no return. While I was finishing my radiation treatments and regaining my energy levels, she passed away at home in hospice care.

We must hold cancer scammers, and the platforms that enable them, accountable. But we must also help people to realize their perspectives on the disease so that they cannot be persuaded by false solutions.

To build a counteroffensive against the false comfort of pseudoscience, we need new narratives about the difficult aspects of our care. If charlatans can frame their supposed treatments around anecdotes and fairy tales, our hospitals can surely create more compelling narratives that reflect our lives, leveraging the social media sphere to beat scammers at their own game.

The science is clear: we cannot cure cancer with turmeric tea, healers, positive vibes, or vitamin infusions overlooking the ocean. The uncomfortable truth is that we have to fight and fight for our best shot in life.

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