From the editor’s desk: Online health information, abortion inaccuracies

Originally published in Issue 9, Fifty-First Year of The Minstrel (February 16, 2017). Click here to view the entire issue. 

At this point in the semester, you’re either one of three things: about to be sick, sick or just got over it. Unfortunately, I currently fall under the “sick” category.

When I’m sick I do two things. First, I Google my symptoms and find out from WebMD that I have cancer. Then I panic and text my sister, who is an RN, and find out that WebMD is wrong and I’m not dying.

Most likely, you also fall under the category of googling your symptoms. According to a Pew Research Center 2013 survey of online health information seeking, 77 percent start with search engines like Google or Yahoo instead of going to a health-oriented site.

This may not sound problematic, but most people do not try and decide if the sources they are looking at are credible and trustworthy. They most likely choose the first source on the page and work their way down.

Additionally, many people have confirmation biases. If they believe they have the flu, they are going to look for websites telling them they have the flu in order to confirm what they already believe.

Most people are satisfied with their searches; however, many websites contain inaccurate health information. Once a lie is told on the Internet, it tends to spread. Health information is sometimes syndicated, so it appears on multiple sites. This means they are verifying their information with multiple sources, but they have really read the material from the same syndicate on two different websites.

Information is often misleading to set certain agendas and one of these is the pro-life agenda. In December 2016, the French Senate signed a bill criminalizing the posting of misleading pro-life information online. They believe it is unlawful for sites to pose as neutral sources of information but promote anti-abortion agendas.

In the last issue, the article “Pro-Life Club attends 44th March for Life in D.C.,” quoted a student who stated that having an abortion could cause their mental and physical health to suffer such as damaging reproductive organs, causing infertility and leading to emotional trauma like PTSD.

As the editor, I read every article before the issue is sent to the publisher. After reading this, I was unsure if the information was true or not and a quick Google search confirmed what the student said, or so I thought. Unfortunately, I fell into the trap of inaccurate information being falsely spread around the Internet. I’m not trying to argue for or against abortion here, but as a journalist, it is important to me that the facts are presented accurately and that lies do not spread out of control (i.e. for the hundredth time, vaccines do not cause autism).

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, abortion is a low-risk procedure. Fewer than one in 100 women have complications from an abortion performed before 14 weeks of pregnancy and up to two in 200 women after. Additionally, the risks from an abortion are less than the risks of giving birth.

Going back to abortion inaccuracies, a 2010 study “Informed or misinformed consent? Abortion policy in the United States,” found that one-third of informed consent information is inaccurate. Most states have informed consent statutes, which require that a woman seeking an abortion receive a state-authored informational packet before an abortion is performed.

Researchers found that 31 percent of the information was medically inaccurate ranging from 15 to 47 percent across states with Pennsylvania averaging to 24 percent. Most of the inaccuracies were about the first trimester of the pregnancy, and among women who have abortions, 90 percent do so in the first trimester. The patterns of inaccuracies included accelerated fetal development, especially size and weight.

Similarly, a 2014 study, “Crisis pregnancy center websites: Information, misinformation and disinformation” looked at a total of 254 websites of crisis pregnancy centers (348) referenced in state resource directories for pregnant women. A total of 203 out of 254 websites had at least one false or misleading piece of information. The most common being mental health risks, preterm birth, breast cancer and future infertility.

Now that the facts are straight, you should definitely check out The Minstrel’s new “Volunteer of the Month” section honoring students dedicated to service. There’s also an ice hockey double feature on the back page and lots of great reading in between.

Peace, love & DeSales,

Kellie Dietrich


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