Cancer misinformation leads most popular fake health news on social media: NBC report

In 2019, the most popular articles sharing unproven cures and other health misinformation collectively received more than 12 million shares, comments and reactions on social media, according to an NBC News analysis.

Researchers compiled a list of articles touting false information that received more than 25,000 engagements on social media by searching for keywords related to the most common diseases and causes of death, as well as oft-targeted health topics such as vaccines, fluoride and natural cures. Many on the resulting list of 80 viral news items claimed that governments and medical communities were conspiring to withhold healthcare information and presented "cures" not backed by scientific proof as an alternative to common medical treatment of life-threatening diseases.

According to the analysis, the most viral health misinformation of 2019 pertained to cancer, followed by unproven cures and vaccines. In some cases, these illegitimate stories completely overshadowed real news on their respective topics. For example, the cancer-related article that received the most social media engagement this year comprised several conspiracies, including one claiming physicians and federal health organizations are hiding a cure for cancer.

The majority of the articles' online engagement came via Facebook. In a statement to NBC News, a company spokesperson said, "While we have made progress this year, we know there is more work to do. We hope to continue our partnership with health organizations to expand our work in this space."

Read the full report here.

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