Fake news – a dental education perspective


I heard the news today, oh boy. Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire…“In 1967, Lennon/McCartney were influenced by a news article. Is this an early example of “fake news”? Jump to the present and “fake news” has been named 2017’s word of the year.

Fake news is defined as false stories that pass themselves off as bona fide news. Reporting an unintended situation that can be corrected is called misinformation. Deliberately producing/disseminating false material with the intention of intentionally influencing people’s opinion is disinformation. As people begin to understand how fake news can influence their habits and opinions, the problem seems to persist.

Internet search engines are constantly capturing information. Content is offered based on its popularity. This activity can be automated by bots or trolls. Bots are programs designed to interact with computer systems without human intervention. Thousands of bots liking/sharing/retweeting a post will make it disproportionately popular. Internet trolls are individuals motivated by passion or money. Trolls write social posts to push a plan or idea, which will be amplified by bots.

The destructive effects of fake news cause changes in real life. It can have serious consequences for public health. Social media is the main way parents access health information. Childhood immunization is an area where misinformation influences decision-making and harms the health of families. Fake news hides behind a badge of authenticity.

Before Google, people would talk to a medical professional to discuss issues. Now everything is online. Fake advertisements often have the slogan “the home treatment that dentists don’t want you to know about”. There has been a rapid growth in dental health “fads” such as charcoal toothpaste. Products are recommended without the use of fluoride (itself erroneously considered a “poison”). These products are promoted on social media, which fosters a sense of authority about them. The lack of scientifically substantiated information around these elements does not prevent their use. Commercial companies take advantage of this by producing their own brand of charcoal toothpaste with little evidence behind its use.

Universities are no longer repositories of knowledge. The proliferation of opinion-based statements sway people with an appealing message, online searches will easily lead to the “discovery” of newer, faster, better and cheaper treatments. Homemade teeth whitening preparations, miraculous facial treatments and dental implant success stories are some of the most talked about stories. These articles carry a quasi-scientific element making the proposed treatments more reliable.

Why does fake news have the power to convince people?

Information is pushed so quickly that people briefly check and replay the content without checking it. Sensational headlines and “information overload” mislead the public, and humans are influenced by confirmation bias, so fake news confirms people’s beliefs.

Is fake news the dark side of evidence-based dentistry?

The European Journal of Oral Implantology has described the problem involving fully or partially rigged studies published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals. Such material is difficult to verify and quantify. With the persistence of fake news, will the public consider the information on websites or newspapers to be trustworthy? How can the public be sure that opposing false information begins to circulate? Everyone is affected in one way or another.

How to fight misinformation?

It’s surprisingly simple, and you should encourage your students to:

  • Check the source. Develop a skeptical mind. Fake news aims to play on your emotions. Health-related content posted by untrusted sources is shared more than evidence-based information.
  • Check the contents carefully. Don’t rely on the title alone. Check the news against other trusted sources, 40% of health content shared on social media is fake news.
  • Check the publication date. Fake news is often a recirculation of older material

What more can you do?

If you’re involved in education, encourage your students to spot fake news. This will allow them to be better informed. Stay focused. People will react to the same news according to their own beliefs. Supposedly fixed concepts are loosening their grip, even recognized scientific journals are publishing polarized research. The best way to deal with fake news is to empower individuals to create a “real news” environment.

Fake news is a global problem. However, it is up to each of us to solve the problem.

Founded by EU-Horizon2020/MSCA(748609).

This is adapted with permission from an article which was published in the British Dental Journal volume 226 ‘Fake news and dental education’ of the British Dental Journal, pages 397–399 (2019) in a new article published on the university’s website.


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