Actual fake news has been going viral on Facebook. Not the type of fake news that's just a New York Times piece that doesn't conform to your political biases so you call it "fake news", but the real kind. The type that is dangerous.
It's been one of the most engaged articles on Facebook over the past two weeks, according to NewsWhip, despite being entirely made up unscientific nonsense, designed only to scare and misinform its readers.
The article in question quotes made-up medical professionals from the CDC, warns people against taking actions that could save their own lives, and could lead to real people getting ill unnecessarily, or even dying.
The piece, from yournewswire, claims that the flu shot causes flu outbreaks and that many people are dying as a result.
“We have seen people dying across the country of the flu, and one thing nearly all of them have in common is they got the flu shot," an anonymous doctor (who doesn't exist) from the CDC told yournewswire, even though they really didn't.
“Some of the patients I’ve administered the flu shot to this year have died," the fictional doctor continues. "I don’t care who you are, this scares the crap out of me.”
That's a terrifying thing to read, and you can see why people are sharing it. If you thought you'd come across some new and horrifying information that could save the lives of family members, you would too.
The piece goes on to attribute deaths to the flu vaccine, and claim that the shot is more dangerous than the virus itself.
"Many medical experts now agree it is more important to protect yourself and your family from the flu vaccine than the flu itself."
Of course, it's complete nonsense. Flu shots do not contain any active virus.
"The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot," the actual Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain on their official website.
There are three types of influenza vaccine, none of which can make you ill. One has an inactive form of the virus, one (recombinant version) contains no flu at all, and the third is a nasal vaccine, which contains a severely weakened form of the virus.
After the shot, you may experience side effects such as fever, soreness, or aches, but these aren't due to a flu infection.
"If these problems occur, they begin soon after vaccination and are mild and short-lived," the CDC writes. "Almost all people who receive influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it."
Unsurprisingly, this information does not have nearly the same volume of shares as the article telling you you're going to get ill if you have the flu shot. It doesn't contain any of the dramatic language that thrives on social media, just cold facts, learned from studies conducted by scientists.
So let's put this in a way that's a little more dramatic, in the vague hope people will share this information, rather than fake news.
If you share articles warning people not to take the flu vaccine, somewhere out there someone could read it. They could be in a vulnerable group. They could be over 65, they could have chronic heart, lung, or kidney disease. They could be put off getting a vaccine because of the article you shared. They could get ill and they could become one of the 36,000 people in the US who die every year because of influenza.
And that could have been prevented if you hadn't shared fake news.
[H/T: Think Progress]