No, Cathy, you don’t have Meningitis. Bob, you were not a butterfly in your previous life. And Daniella, you are not an 81% descendent of Nefertiti. Don’t believe everything you read online. We’ve heard this mantra so often, we’re now practically immune to what it actually means. The internet is an incredibly powerful tool – we literally have the world at our fingertips and can retrieve any kind of information – any time, anywhere.

However, as the internet is omnipresent and has such a powerful voice, it has become a double-edged sword, and we have to adopt a certain mindset when using it: just as we don’t believe everything we hear, we also shouldn’t believe everything we read (unless it’s properly credited).

The Dangers of Online Research

Online research imposes plenty of hazards on many different levels, and the excessive noise blurs what we should and should not believe. Here are just a few of the dangers we can encounter when we enter the world wide web:

  • Identity check: it’s easy for anyone to assume another personality online. There is a need for caution when anyone and everyone can be granted a voice, whether he or she is relevant or an expert on the material or not.
  • Understanding of public vs. private communication online: Some argue that if something is posted online where anyone could read it, this classifies it as a publication and can be quoted just as we would quote books or articles. It often goes unnoticed how people engaged in online communities do so, however, as they assume that their communication will stay within their close-knit community, which it sometimes does not.
  • A clear example of this would be an individual in an online support group for a certain illness, as they may not expect their posts to be reused or quoted; these discussions are ones that resemble conversations over coffee, not words meant for online publications

Just as every situation has a good and bad angle to it, online research can be advantageous as it eases communication provided by digital media. In the end, it’s online spaces hosting groups of people coming together that create rich opportunities for research.

Benefits vs. Risks Of Self-Diagnosis Using The Internet

Humans have an innate desire to find answers to their problems (or illnesses), such as when using the internet for self-diagnosis of noticeable symptoms. Some information that’s provided is surely viable, but where is the line drawn before self-diagnosis with cancer is at stake?

That in itself might not be much of a problem unless the person decides to skip the medical check-up (if serious) and assumes he or she can heal themselves properly without medical intervention, but rather with only information he or she has located online.

Benefits

  • Naming the beast makes it easier to cope with. As people feel an urgency to figure out what’s going on in and around them, self-diagnosis will help calm them.
  • Searching for symptoms online can be a beneficial preparatory step ahead of a doctor’s visit. It also gives the person the resources to actively partake in his own health.
  • People can research online and use the information to better understand their conditions, ask their doctors the right questions, and better understand what the doctor has to say about their health.
  • As not everyone has access to or can afford a regular doctor, the internet increases the available health information in underserved populations.

Risks

  • Any person with access to the internet who can edit websites can modify health information displayed on the web.
  • The health information seekers may not fully understand the information they come across, and attempt treatments that could harm them rather than choosing to go to the doctor.
  • Fact vs fiction: researchers can be led astray with information overload and will not always be able to distinguish the credibility of what they’re reading. Take mental health for example – it is of the utmost importance and can be easily disregarded or misunderstood.
  • Beware of “cyberchondria”: when you diagnose yourself with a brain tumour after you’ve experienced a headache. It is actually the unstoppable assumption that one’s symptoms certainly mean a diagnosis of a specific disease. Being mindful of when to take in information as educative and not just to alleviate stress is the way to go.

Referring to the Guardian-MyDoc Community Digital Health programme is a trusted and secure way to go about your self-diagnosis and gain reassurance. It is free and easy to use, and it provides genuine medical advice on demand from healthcare professionals.

This is a content partnership between MyDoc and Lifestyle Collective to provide high-quality health content to our readers. MyDoc is a digital health brand that makes access to quality health easier and faster. This series is focused on educating people on general health topics. The information shared has been reviewed by third-party medical professionals.