Media Killed the Common Sense Bar

Social media. Love it or hate it, it's a huge part of life today and has enormous impacts on how health information is sought out and consumed. Nurses can use it as a force for good. Nurses General Nursing Article


Media Killed the Common Sense Bar

Simpler Times

Have you ever heard that old song “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles? It came out in 1979. An oldie, but a goodie. The lyrics of this poppy song deal with how new technology has put to rest an old way of life as TV and music videos made their debut in the 20th century. Though innovation with its many advantages is inevitable, there is something to be missed from bygone days when things were simply . . . simpler. 

Social media has got to be one of the most influential innovations in the 21st century. And, just like the advent of TV and music videos, social media has put by the wayside an older way of creating and consuming content. When it came to health information, the old way was pretty straightforward. Ask your doc, or a nurse, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. Home remedies were passed down, friends and family could be solicited for advice, and there were always books for hardcore seekers of knowledge. 

Of course, that didn’t mean that health information was always reliable. Aunt Betty’s homemade cure for the common cold was surely more of a placebo than anything. But that cure probably stayed within Betty’s circle of family, friends, and neighbors.

Good or Bad?

Now there’s social media, and with it, the ability to spread an idea faster than the Omicron variant. When I asked my daughters, ages 13 and 16, if social media makes people stop thinking, they both answered unhesitatingly, “Yes!” The 13-year-old barely let me finish the sentence before she had shared her certain verdict. The 16-year-old admitted that sometimes she will withhold her opinion on something—a book, a movie, a TikTok—until she’s read what others think. I was about to get all judgy when I realized I’ve done pretty much the same thing, giving a book a 5-star rating and then second-guessing myself after seeing negative comments and critiques on social media. 

There is no question that social media has enormous sway in people's lives. Decades ago, when the internet was starting to burst forth and connect the world, there was a lot of positive talk about how it could open up dialogue between people. As a global community, we could travel the world virtually, learn about other’s lives, their cultures, their perspectives, and understanding and empathy would inevitably follow. 

If only.

Don’t get me wrong. On days when I’m less cynical, I can picture that glorious ideal of sharing and seeking out ideas and people coming together with good intentions and correct information to make a difference.

But let’s not be naive. The internet ends up being a giant echo chamber, algorithmically tailored to tell people exactly what they want to hear and confirming all their preconceived notions, beliefs, ideas, and dreams, while also stoking fears and misunderstanding.

It’s both. Both things can be true about this vast online community. And many times, things fall in the middle of that spectrum.

Healthcare is not immune. It falls prey to the whims of social media with its clever one-liners, ever-changing trends, and punchy ads. I can't even begin to fathom the number of health-related industries out there all competing for loyal customers. Everything from vast healthcare systems conducting research to hospitals and universities all the way to the local apothecary or online scammer disguised as a legit business. And they all have ways of getting information to the public, whether it’s blogs, social media campaigns, or email lists. The reach extends far beyond Aunt Betty’s circle.

Misinformation, Confusion, Distrust

Obviously, misinformation isn’t trite when it comes to healthcare decisions. It can have life changing consequences. One would think people would be extremely careful about the source of their information. But the fact is, most people don’t check a website’s “about page” to see what entity lies behind the information, who produces the content, or where their funding comes from, all of which are incredibly important. Neglecting to put on the Sherlock Holmes hat and do a bit of detective work can result in a person coming away convinced the wrong information is right.

In addition, healthcare is complicated and many times controversial. It is intertwined with politics, technology, religion, and culture. And then there’s the actual science of the human body. There’s a reason it takes years of schooling and experience to become an expert on the human body or even just one system of the human body. It is incredibly complex! I’m reminded of this anytime I delve into a branch of nursing that isn’t my forte. And then figuring in all the medications, interventions, treatments, surgical procedures, and technology orbiting this intricate web—no wonder people come away more confused than ever! 

Distrust is another challenge when it comes to health information on social media. Take the recent obvious example, COVID. Changes came fast and furious during the pandemic, and misinformation abounded. As new discoveries were made, recommendations changed and evolved, often seemingly contradicting each other. The general public became understandably frustrated, and distrust of the scientific and medical community grew. Now, could this have been avoided? Who’s to say? Hindsight is 20/20, and hopefully, there has been a lot of knowledge gained about the importance social media plays in effective and clear communication. 

When people are confused about what they’ve read or have an inkling they may have come across inaccuracies, do they verify information with their doctors? One study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that during the COVID pandemic, only 36% of people fact-checked something they had read in social media with their doctor. 

Educate, Understand, Inspire

Perhaps social media has lessened some older outlets of dispersing information, like pamphlets, books, or even just talking to a healthcare professional. And those older ways were less fraught with potential disasters. But that doesn’t mean social media has to kill common sense. Used in the right way, it can encourage a person to think, to research, and to seek answers.  

Technology often runs faster than our ability to keep up. Education is critical for using technology wisely, and this is true of social media. When people learn how social media works and the impact it has on their thinking, they are suddenly armed against accepting the opinion or “facts” coming from any fool with a keyboard and a platform. No one wants to be duped. If people are educated to have a high level of skepticism and curiosity, they are less likely to be taken for a ride. All the better if they are educated at a young age.

Nursing remains one of the most trusted professions. We can be proactive in sharing reliable websites with our patients and their families. Precious few have adequate time to educate their patients thoroughly, but sometimes just a few words can go a long way. Here are a few ideas:

  • “A great website for getting good information is . . .”
  • “I really like [insert website here]. It makes things so easy to understand.”
  • “You do need to be careful about where you get online information. There are a lot of bad websites out there.”
  • “You should always check with your doctor if you read something online that you have questions about.”
  • “facebook and Twitter aren’t the best places to get medical answers.”
  • “ [or other website] has a lot of information about your chronic illness.”

I’m not above glancing at pages like Joe Mama’s Guide to DIY Remedies (not a real website, but it should be). But I’d never make that suggestion to a patient. My favorite outlets for health information are:

  • The Cleveland Clinic 
  • The Mayo Clinic 
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
  • Harvard Health 
  • National Institutes of Health 
  • Pubmed 
  • Various non-profit foundations, institutes, and societies, such as:
    • American Cancer Society 
    • Asthma and Allergy Foundation 
    • National Organization for Rare Disorders 

Healthcare professionals have a tremendous opportunity to engage and inspire others by taking advantage of social media. It can be leveraged to direct readers to credible sources of information. It has amazing power to promote awareness and motivate. And it has the ability to connect people with the same goals to promote healthy practices, discourage misinformation, and form communities to help each other—just what the internet was meant to do in the first place!

In the meantime, I’ll encourage my daughters and my patients to check their sources, be both skeptical and curious, and to think for themselves. And I’ll make sure I do the same.


The Buggles - Video Killed The Radio Star (Official Music Video)

Health Information Seeking Behaviors on Social Media During the COVID-19 Pandemic Among American Social Networking Site Users: Survey Study

20 years nursing experience in various fields: ED, ICU, Trauma, Public, Community, and School nursing. Now writes health content.

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Specializes in Med nurse in med-surg., float, HH, and PDN.

 I limit my time on my laptop because when I found myself online for HOURS, I felt like it was eating my life. I don't specify when or how long I will be online, but when I start getting irritated, I know it's time to close it up and put it away.

I also stay off of many, many of the popular sites. 

nikkulele77, BSN

4 Articles; 23 Posts

Specializes in ED, ICU, Public/Community Health.

Such a good idea. Irritation is good indicator for me as well. 😊


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