Sunday, July 12, 2020

'Alternative care' ads are perilous, says debunker

Pseudoscientific advertising on social media swamps cancer patient who exposes it in N.Y. Times op ed

Facebook targets users who have cancer with "alternative care" ads.

At least that's the opinion of Anne Borden King, a consultant for Bad Science Watch, who published an article to that effect in The New York Times last week.

King, who's also the founder of the Campaign Against Phony Autism Cures, insisted she'll never fall for those ads because she's "an advocate against pseudoscience."

Her opinion piece held high a red flag proclaiming that "being targeted by those who traffic in false promises feels like a 'slap in the face' to patients like me," according to a secondary headline in the Times.

Unfortunately, King postulated, there may be no hope that Facebook will change its policies on how it handles "hate speech and misinformation." As proof, she cited a meeting the social media giant had last week with representatives of the advocacy group Stop Hate for Profit. 

"In the view of the organizers," she wrote, "the meeting did not go well."
Jessica J. Gonzalez 
King, in fact, quoted Jessica J. Gonz├ílez, one of those organizers, who in January was named co-CEO of Free Press, a media advocacy group: "Facebook approached our meeting today like it was nothing more than a PR exercise."

The op ed writer, whom the Times describes as "an advocate working to prevent the spread of medical misinformation," noted that the Facebook ads promoted "everything from cumin seeds to colloidal silver as cancer treatments. Some ads promise luxury clinics — or even 'nontoxic cancer therapies' on a beach in Mexico."

She further noted that she's "learned to recognized the hallmarks of pseudoscience marketing: unproven and sometimes dangerous treatments, promising simplistic solutions and support. Things like 'bleach cures' that promise to treat everything from Covid-19 to autism." 

King also indicated that she found it interesting that no "legitimate cancer care ads" have appeared in her newsfeed, "just pseudoscience. This may be because pseudoscience companies rely on social media in a way that order forms of health care don't."

She elaborated: Pseudoscience companies "use influencers and patient testimonials [and sometimes] recruit members through Facebook 'support groups' to sell their products in pyramid schemes."

And the social media environment, she wrote, gives patients "a sense of belonging, which makes it harder  for them to question a product."

Cancer patients, she alleged, "are especially vulnerable to this stealth marketing" because it becomes normal for them to be "told where to go, how to sit and what to take. It can be painful and scary and — and then all our hair falls out. During the pandemic, many of us are also isolated. Our loved ones can't come to our appointments or even visit us in the hospital. Now, more than ever, who is there to hold our hand?"

Pseudoscience companies, King added, have found a way to "tap directly into our fears and isolation, offering us a sense of control, while claiming their products can end our pain. They exploit our emotions to offer phony alternatives."

She then voiced a strong statement that "the evidence is clear: Death rates are much higher for people with cancer who choose alternative therapies instead of standard care."

More debunking of pseudoscientific cures can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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