There’s a reason they say knowledge is power- the more we know, the better equipped we are to step out into the world and achieve our goals. Information is like a currency; it can buy you your next job opportunity, or the ability to make better life decisions, or even better health. The internet is like a bank full of this currency- it’s full of amazing information.
With a quick Google search, we can learn about anything from ancient Egyptian burial traditions to how coffee beans are grown. However, the internet lacks control. Online, anyone can share their views on any topic they wish. And while that’s amazing, it sometimes makes it hard to separate fact from rumour or opinion. This can become dangerous when the information is about something important, like our health.
Anyone can be misled by poor information found online, so we all need to be careful. Here are three questions that can help you decide whether to follow a piece of online advice.
Is this an important issue in my life?
“Infotainment” (where learning meets entertainment) is extremely popular these days. On TV, infotainment often takes the form of nature documentaries and chat shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show. Online, infotainment has taken off, especially on YouTube, where many creators share their nutrition advice in the popular “What I Eat In A Day” style videos.
It can be fun to learn through entertainment online, but when we have a real problem, infotainment just isn’t enough. For example, if you really feel unwell, and think you might need to change your diet, it’s important to speak to a doctor. It might be interesting or even helpful sometimes to watch a YouTuber talking about what they eat, but ultimately, we all need advice that’s specific to our problem, and only a doctor we trust can provide that advice.
What qualifications does this person have?
Whether we’re reading articles or watching videos, it’s important to know who is providing the information we’re getting and what their qualifications are. Not all qualifications are equal- some “diplomas” take a few weeks to earn, while others take a few years. Qualifications are also different in different countries, so an American “certificate” in some area of study could be different to an Irish one. If you’re not sure about someone’s qualifications, it’s best not to take their advice too seriously. Many areas of science are a work in progress, and researchers learn new things about health, nutrition, and fitness every day, so medical advice changes over time.
Only your doctor will know the most reliable and up to date information on your specific issue.
What is the goal of this website/channel/account?
Every YouTuber, blogger, and writer has their own reasons for putting information online. Some are trying to sell a product to their audience. Others just want to provide entertainment. And some just want to help people. There’s nothing wrong with being interested in these accounts or wanting to try something new. We all enjoy seeing how other people workout, eat, and take care of their mental health, we just need to look after ourselves in the process.
One thing we can do to avoid wasting our money or taking poor advice is search for reviews of any product or service we’re interested in before paying for it. Google and Trustpilot.com are good places to start, and if something seems weird, trust your gut.
When we exercise a little caution, the internet is great place to learn and discover new things. The trick is to focus on using it for inspiration and fun, rather than our main source of information on important things, like our health. With a few cautious strategies in place, we can take the bank of information available to us online, and use it to be our happiest, most inspired selves.
Will you be thinking a bit more carefully about following online advice in the future?