Friends of Science in Medicine president and UNSW Emeritus Professor John Dwyer.
Friends of Science in Medicine president and UNSW Emeritus Professor John Dwyer.

‘Vicious spread of misinformation’ puts community at risk

THE "misuse of social media" is likely contributing to the rise of misinformation on health and science-related matters, according to a strong advocate for evidence-based healthcare.

Professor John Dwyer, the president of Friends of Science in Medicine, has criticised claims of the Freedom of Choice Alliance, which held a "Right to Privacy Summit" in Murwillumbah on Friday.

FCA, based in Mullumbimby, is among a number of groups which are vocal - particularly on social media - with concerns about vaccination, 5G technology and supposed plans for "microchips" which would monitor immunisations.
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But their claims aren't based on fact and their online rhetoric can go largely unchallenged.

The group recently left flyers on car windscreens in Murwillumbah, containing claims that mercury-containing vaccinations are given to newborns.

Professor Dwyer said the drawbacks of social media being misused for "bullying, conspiracy theories, alternative facts etc" could outweigh the benefits of the platforms.

"Already we are alarmed at the vicious spread of misinformation urging people to avoid a COVID-19 vaccine should one be developed," Prof Dwyer said.

"Public health benefits from vaccination require 70 to 95 per cent of the population to participate.

"The world has seen terrible harm done in the last few years when fearmongering saw a drop in measles vaccination rates."

The unchallenged online voices of those who might not label themselves "anti-vaxxers" but urge nonscientists to do their own research is a growing concern, he said.

Particularly in regions with below-average immunisation rates, like the Northern Rivers and particularly, Mullumbimby.

"We know from global studies that health literacy in Australia is among the lowest in OECD countries (40%) and there is a growing attitude among too many that sees them having no respect for genuine expertise (climate control, safety procedures to protect from COVID, vaccination advice etc)," Prof Dwyer said.

"Living in such a beautiful part of the world should be associated with better lifelong health.

"Instead, the plethora of individuals promoting pseudoscientific theories and practices is putting many people's health in jeopardy."

At the time of publication, a Facebook event created for this afternoon's "Right to Privacy summit" run by the FCA had received no RSVPs.