Should health experts use social media? Here’s why it can be your own printing press

You’re a public health official and want to get lifesaving information to the public. But how?   

Well, there’s the news media. But should you trust them?  

In May, Bhekisisa’s executive director and editor-in-chief Mia Malan opened the Africa Health Exhibition public health conference with a keynote that focused on public health officials can’t afford to ignore journalists.    

The media sometimes also does a bad job of reporting on health issues. For example, many news publications have incorrectly reported that vaccines cause autism —resulting in parents stopping to vaccinate their children. 

Vaccines are not the only public health issue journalists get confused about. During the Thabo Mbeki HIV denialist era in South Africa during the late 1990s and early 2000s, some reporters believed the then president’s false claims that HIV did not cause Aids. But health activists quickly responded.

Two decades later, public health officials no longer have to rely on journalists only to get important health information out. They now have their own, free printing presses. 

It would be a mistake to pretend that the world hasn’t changed. Social media is with us and it is a powerful tool to get health information out. Refusing to use Twitter or Facebook is like rejecting mobile phones in favour of landlines only — you’ll fall far behind.    

But it’s not as simple as it seems. The internet has disrupted authority and power: on social media, the voices of public health experts weigh the same as the opinions of people who spread disinformation — for instance, anti-vaxxers.

So how do we root out faux facts? That’s why you need to work with the news media, in addition to being on social media.    

Journalists are influential because they have powerful channels to distribute information.

 But the news media is not an island. Public health officials and reporters need each other. 

Click here to download Mia Malan’s the full presentation.

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Bhekisisa team
Bhekisisa Team
Health features and news from across Africa by Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Latest stories

Parliamentary legal opinion urges steps on MPs, former minister named...

Senior MP Cedric Frolick should face an inquiry by the ethics committee while Gwede Mantashe and Nomvula Mokhonyane could face criminal sanction

Inside the 18-month investigation into Roodepoort man raping a dog

Perpetrator jailed for eight years after he sexually assaulted his neighbour's puppy

How far can you drive on R800 worth of fuel?...

Libya - along with Algeria, Angola and Nigeria top a list of countries where you can travel the furthest in Africa

Fight for accessible Braille texts hinges on concourt ruling

Applicant BlindSA says the law limits or prevents those with visual and print disabilities from accessing information
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×