Medical misinformation relies on an ecosystem of actors as the global spread of health misinformation is encouraged by social media algorithms. According to industry estimates, top-ranked health misinformation spreader Realfarmacy.com accumulated an approximate 253.6 million views between May 2019 and May 2020. The top medical misinformation pages were identified by analyzing website credibility reviews based on credibility and transparency criteria.
Comparison of web traffic to leading health disinformation websites versus official health institution websites from June 2019 to May 2020
(in million views)
Top 10 health misinformation sites
Top 10 official health institutions by country/region
top 10 health misinformation websites vs. top 10 official health institutions by country/region
Avaaz identified a sample size of 82 websites spreading health misinformation from a database of 5,080 website credibility reviews, which according to NewsGuard, accounts for 95% of online engagement with news in the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and France. These 82 websites were selected by Avaaz (from the 5,080 website database curated by NewsGuard) based on the following criteria:
- Rated as ‘Red’ by NewsGuard, meaning that the site “fails to meet basic standards of credibility and transparency.”
- Failed to meet NewsGuard’s two main criteria for evaluating journalistic credibility:
- “Does not repeatedly publish false content” and “Gathers and presents information responsibly”.
- Included the following keywords in the NewsGuard database ‘topic’ category: ‘Health’ and/or ‘COVID’ and/or ‘Medical’.245
- Its NewsGuard label mentioned specific health misinformation claims or articles shared by the website as per our definition of “health misinformation” as defined in box 1 below.
- Published at least one example of fact-checked health misinformation content, which reached at least 30,000 estimated views on Facebook since Jan. 1, 2019.246
‘Health misinformation’ definition
For the analysis in this report we consider only verifiably false or misleading information that has the potential to cause public harm, such as undermining democracy or public health. For this report, our investigative team documented 174 verifiably false or misleading posts, articles and videos shared on the health misinformation spreading pages sampled in this report, and that met the following criteria:
1. Were fact-checked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners or other reputable fact-checking organizations, such as Politifact, HealthFeedback, Snopes and Reuters. To confirm the accuracy of all fact checks, Avaaz hired Health Feedback, a member of the WHO-led project Vaccine Safety Net (VSN), to review all samples chosen for this study.
2. Could cause public harm by undermining public health in the areas of:
a. Preventing disease: e.g. false information on diseases, epidemics and pandemics, and anti-vaccination misinformation.
b. Prolonging life and promoting health: e.g. bogus cures and/or encouragement to discontinue recognised medical treatments.
c. Creating distrust in health institutions, health organizations, medical practices, and their recommendations: e.g. false information implying that clinicians or governments are creating or hiding health risks.
d. Fear mongering on health-related issues: health-related misinformation which can induce fear and panic, e.g. misinformation stating that the coronavirus is lab-created or a man-made bio-weapon.
e. Health misinformation with the potential of inducing discrimination against minorities: e.g. misinformation that migrants are spreading the virus.
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avaaz.org. (August 19, 2020). Comparison of web traffic to leading health disinformation websites versus official health institution websites from June 2019 to May 2020 (in million views) [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved December 07, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1155532/top-health-disinformation-websites-visits/
avaaz.org. "Comparison of web traffic to leading health disinformation websites versus official health institution websites from June 2019 to May 2020 (in million views)." Chart. August 19, 2020. Statista. Accessed December 07, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1155532/top-health-disinformation-websites-visits/
avaaz.org. (2020). Comparison of web traffic to leading health disinformation websites versus official health institution websites from June 2019 to May 2020 (in million views). Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: December 07, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1155532/top-health-disinformation-websites-visits/
avaaz.org. "Comparison of Web Traffic to Leading Health Disinformation Websites versus Official Health Institution Websites from June 2019 to May 2020 (in Million Views)." Statista, Statista Inc., 19 Aug 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1155532/top-health-disinformation-websites-visits/
avaaz.org, Comparison of web traffic to leading health disinformation websites versus official health institution websites from June 2019 to May 2020 (in million views) Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1155532/top-health-disinformation-websites-visits/ (last visited December 07, 2022)