This is why I don’t read Facebook

A couple of friends and I were sitting in a cafe in our children’s school yesterday and we commented on the fact that Facebook news feeds are full of posts such as “Seven things to do to avoid cancer”, “Drink this and you will be fine” or “If you don’t do this, you will die a painful death”.

Yes, it is good to be informed, especially on medical issues. Therefore I subscribe to Nature, New Scientist and BMA Journal, where the published articles are peer-reviewed before being published. Even so, for every 100 persons killed by chemotherapy/vaccines, there are 100 more who are helped by the modality. This is the nature of science – there is no absolute. Perfection or the right way is a moving target with more than one answer or solution.

When I was at Oxford, one of the astrophysics professors (a young and handsome chap) was a celebrated Fellow of The Royal Society based on his work on cold dark matter. A few years later, he fell from grace because there were doubts about cold dark matter. But these days, he’s flying high again ….does cold dark matter exist??? Who knows.

Similarly, if we were to believe in all we read back in the seventies, we would have stopped eating eggs and butter in favour of the healthier alternative called margarine. If there was Facebook at that time, no doubt the news feeds will be full of “Butter clogs up arteries”, “Eggs are bad for you”, “Eat margarine for a healthy breakfast”.

But today, we are all running back to good old eggs and butter and condemning margarine.

So we obsess, forget to live and start developing new disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness of our age, and many seemingly normal people morph into hypochondriacs because they choose to be immersed in the huge ocean of articles and posts, majority with unsubstantiated claims, small sample set or statistically insignificant results. And let’s face it, if you believe that we are under attack from Martians, there will be very compelling articles out there to prove that yes, you are correct, watch out for spaceships the next time you step out.

As my super-calm partner says, “These are all consequences of the monkeys in the brain”.

How powerful are these monkeys? I had one Facebook friend, whom I don’t even talk to on a personal basis, flying from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket just for one day in desperation, to ask me this pressing question, “Do I have cancer?” Based on the large amount of time spent on social media and on Dr Google, she was convinced that she was afflicted with the disease.
More damagingly, many teenagers suffer from eating disorders these days, and that is no surprise, given that they are flooded with the message that everything they eat has harmful consequences on their health.

So bring on glamorous selfies (I like to see how the other half lives), food photos (to inspire a foodie like me) and jokes especially (because that’s why I read Facebook, to de-stress, not get more stressed up). And please think twice before sharing scare-mongering articles on health (unless it is your personal research involving hundreds of people over a long period of time) … because remember, no one knows anything for sure and it is counterproductive to get folks psyched up about something that is not necessarily accurate.

Here’s an informative article on anxiety in New Scientist – we inherit it and childhood events could well be the cause. Don’t pass it on.

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(Graphics from www.muttabouttown.com)

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