Don’t Get Sucked in By What You Read Online

Proactive Health

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

A twenty-something Australian wellness blogger’s thousands of devoted followers were shocked and disappointed when she admitted she had told a major, unforgivable lie.

Belle Gibson built her blogging, writing and social media career by claiming she had terminal brain cancer. She said she was able to cure her cancer through nutrition and “alternative remedies,” including oxygen therapy, Ayurvedic medicine and a diet void of gluten and refined sugar.   

Before her shocking false claims were revealed to the world, Gibson befriended a couple with a little boy, named Joshua, who was very sick with brain cancer. The family became very close with Gibson and shared details of their son’s struggle battling cancer. The family now believes Gibson was using them for information and to learn more about cancer symptoms, so she could have a more believable story of having cancer herself.

"Ms Gibson expressly compared the terrible circumstances of young Joshua to her own, asserting she had the same kind of tumour as he did; a statement which was completely false," said Federal Court Judge Debbie Mortimer, who was quoted in this story.  

To learn more about Gibson’s false claims, watch her in this 60 Minutes interview. Some people with cancer said they stopped conventional cancer treatment, because they were inspired and hopeful that they could be cured through Gibson’s alternative form of cancer treatment.

Gibson reportedly made $420,000 off of social media and sales from her cookbook, “The Whole Pantry.” She also profited from developing an app for natural therapies.

The Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) started an investigation and in 2016 brought a civil case against Gibson. Recently, the federal court in Melbourne ordered Gibson to pay $410,000. From her interview with 60 minutes, it is apparent that Gibson does not comprehend how horrible of an act she committed. She even feels she has been a victim herself.

Although I am happy the truth came to light, this is a very sad and discouraging story. Navigating the healthcare field and health information readily available to us via the Internet can be daunting and overwhelming.

Bloggers abuse the public’s trust when they engage in the type of conduct described above.  

I have a few suggestions you may want to use to intelligently evaluate what you read online.  

1. Review the educational background of bloggers to determine whether they are qualified to provide healthcare information to you.

2. If the opinion of bloggers is based on personal experience, request that they provide objective information to verify the accuracy of their experience. For example, I have reported about my issues with metabolizing caffeine and absorbing vitamin C. Any reader should feel free to request proof of these conditions. And I should not be allowed to claim any privilege with respect to the release of the information regarding these conditions. I should be fully prepared to disclose this information.

3. Bloggers with professional licenses may lose their license to the extent that they deliberately provide false information to the public. This penalty may be a deterrent to professionals who deliberately provide false information in their blogs. To the contrary, bloggers without a license or a livelihood which could be jeopardized may have less incentive to provide accurate information.

4. Talk to a competent and qualified medical professional regarding new information you obtain from the Internet which might be relevant to your health. 

5. Evaluate the sources used by bloggers to support the information provided.

Here are also some reputable sources to help you navigate the plethora of health information out there:

  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This is a great resource for looking up vitamins and minerals in the foods we eat. You can look up practically anything you buy in the grocery store or any whole food.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC provides a wealth of information with detailed reports and statistics on an array of diseases. You can also find information on traveler’s health, emergency preparedness, safe driving for teens and more.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO is great if you want to look more into global health issues. You can easily search by health topic.
  • The National Institutes for Health (NIH). The NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This organization consists of several institutes where you can find extensive research on some of the most life-threatening diseases and more.
  • Harvard Health. Reputable educational institutes are great sources of information. Along with detailed reports, Harvard’s medical school has a lot of easy-to-understand information which is great for when you are short on time and cannot read through extensive medical studies.

The wealth of information available on the Internet and social media is a powerful tool, but it is critical that you proceed with caution. Your health is valuable so empower yourself with credible information so that you can ask the right questions and make informed decisions.  

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.       


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