With Halloween approaching, you will see many articles about how to keep your children safe on Oct. 31.  So, no dark costumes, no unwrapped candy, never walk alone and stay out of the crotchety neighbor’s yard.  Got it?

Now, let’s move on toward another potentially “dangerous” activity, getting medical information from the Internet.

Medical misinformation doesn’t just come from the Internet, but it is one of the biggest and worst offenders.

Why?

      1) Information travels fast- shares and likes spread quickly

     2) Everyone can appear to be an expert – flashy website = true

     3) There are no checks and balances (you can post anything you want to your blog anytime)

So, the monsters are out there. They can take on many forms and identities and can be more or less dangerous.  

Here are 2 of the most common monsters out there:

 1) Dracula (Active deception)

There are people out there searching for, creating and sharing information that is false. They either know that it is false and continue to do this or they are deceived themselves. Either way, what they do is very dangerous.

Garlic and Wooden Crosses:

      A) Look at the source – Look deeply at the host of the website, not just at face value but really look into where the information is coming from.  If it is a reliable source, you’re probably OK.

      B) Look at the sources – If an article or site is discussing highly scientific information, then there should be links and references to scientific papers or at least to other highly scientific websites or content that do have the research referenced.

  2) Frankenstein (Passive deception)

There are other people out there who are not actively seeking out or producing misinformation but continue to passively spread it. The most common place I see this is on social media (especially Facebook and Twitter). It goes like this, an article or post is shared by someone you know and trust and the headline sounds good, so what’s the harm in pressing like or share? Right? Wrong. If you spent just a few minutes to research and read what you just shared, you might think twice about posting it but you’ve already shared and now your friend is seeing it on your stream and they are in the same boat you were in 5 minutes ago.

Battling Frankenstein:

      A) Think twice before sharing – Never share without clicking on and reading the link on the article you are sharing

     B) Think twice before friending/liking -Think about the things that your “friends” post online. Are they encouraging, challenging you in some way?  Also, if you like a page that is posting misinformation, it gives them some credibility with your friends and their overall “like” number gives them credibility with everyone.

 Beware of the Draculas and Frankensteins out there.  

 Pay attention to the information you read and make sure it is trustworthy.  Have your tools to battle monsters ready.

 And don’t forget to walk on the sidewalk on October 31st.

 Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician at the Cook Children’s Neighborhood Clinic on 2755 Miller Ave.  He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his three young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.

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