Have a heart (or How fact checking can save lives)

What the internet has done for the distribution of information, it has also done for the distribution of bad information.

Social media has empowered the everyman with the ability to reach large audiences in a single post. These comments on or revelations of current events are often readily accepted by people within the sharer’s circle.

The pitfalls of this form of communication being accepted as a valid source of news, and even health information, should be obvious. Anyone can share anything in what I am convinced is the Wild West era of the World Wide Web.

I’m a fact guy, and the internet facilitates that inclination quite well. This is perhaps why I have been routinely distressed by the faulty information that I witness being passed along by well-meaning friends.

One of the most distressing things I’ve seen shared multiple times is a self-administered “Cough CPR” technique, which is suggested for people having a heart attack while alone.

While everyone that shares the technique surely does so with the best intentions, the fact of the matter is that the technique is not recommended by the American Heart Association.

“Cough CPR” is meant for use in very specific circumstances, and the consequences could be fatal if an individual attempts to self-administer. Instead, individuals should learn the symptoms of a heart attack so they can seek help as quickly as possible.

It is easy to understand how such information is so easily passed along. Every year 715,000 American’s experience a heart attack; of those 525,000 are new heart attack victims.

The chances are high that most people have someone they love who has experienced a heart attack. On its face, the information is helpful, and the concern is highly relatable. It makes sense that on a very personal level people would want this information to be true.

Our hopes and good intentions can blind us and disarm our normal skepticism.

The grand irony is this: We assume that no one would blindly pass along such delicate health advice without knowing it to be valid, and then we proceed to shatter the basis of that assumption by doing precisely that.

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