You’ll catch a cold if you go out in the cold weather unprotected. . . Cracking your knuckles will cause arthritis. . . Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be contracted from toilet seats. . . Performing a biopsy or cutting into cancer can cause it to spread. . . Vaccines cause autism.

These statements have been proven false but there are people that still believe them to be facts. What constitutes a fact? Is it the source of the information? Is it the reputation of the individual relaying the information? Many myths are perpetuated simply because of where or how the information is obtained. After all, if some celebrity endorsed it, a family member said it, or if it’s on the internet, it has to be true, right?

With the evolution of technology, the days of reading a physical newspaper to get news and information are nearly nonexistent. People rely on the internet, and surprisingly social media, to inform them and ultimately shape their decisions and opinions. Because of this, it is imperative that research and the dissemination of the facts be emphasized. Those in academia have an obligation to provide communities with evidence-based information and it is important to know where and how people get their information, particularly related to health, so that it can be conveyed appropriately.

According to the Pew Research Center, statistics show that 90 percent of American adults now own a cell phone and 64 percent a smartphone. That’s an increase of almost 30 percent since 2011. What’s interesting is that of those who have smartphones, 10 percent rely on them, depending on their data plan, as their only source of internet access. This includes 15 percent of young adults (age 18-29), 13 percent of households with annual incomes of less than $30,000 and minorities (12 percent of African Americans and 13 percent of Hispanics). It was determined in 2014 that more than half (62 percent) of all smartphone owners use their device to look up information about a specific health condition. That is more than those that do online banking (57 percent). A person’s age and level of education followed by health and disability status are the most significant predictors of who uses the internet to seek out health information. With the many social media platforms out there, Facebook is at the top of the list when it comes to news and information. Around two-thirds (64 percent) of U.S. adults use the site, and about half of those users rely on it as their news source.

So what does all of this mean? We should know our audience and seek to inform them accordingly. The erroneous information will still be out there, so educating the public about reputable information sources is equally as important as providing accurate data.

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Catherine Hudson
Catherine Hudson is Director for Rural Health Research at the F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health in Lubbock, TX.