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Readers beware: 5 forms for fitness ‘fake news’ to be wary of online

‘Fake news’ pervades our world thanks to the impact and influence that online and social media have on our lives.

The Internet and social media have made the creation and dissemination of information so much easier and not all of it is true, obviously.

We now have to contend with various forms of fake news:

  • Fake news created for legitimate reason, like satire
  • Misguided fake news, like many of the old health and fitness myths that remain in circulation via well-intentioned articles, and
  • Malicious fake news aimed at influencing ill-informed, emotionally vulnerable or desperate consumers for commercial or other gain.

The major issue is that even when patently fake news stretches the boundaries of belief, more and more people are buying into it, believing it’s true, and are helping to spread it by sharing and liking it online.

In the world of health and fitness, fake news seems to span this spectrum, but it is the malicious form we need to be most wary of. No matter how much science and common sense assert otherwise, this form of fake news is manipulated to resemble credible content and journalism with the aim of attracting as much as attention as possible and, with it, advertising revenue, product sales or perpetuate fraud.

To help you filter the fake from the facts, here is the most prevalent fat-loss fake news to watch out for:

1. Perverting science to sell

Crafting articles that read and look similar to research papers has been a popular way to fool people into believing that a promoted product is legitimate and effective, even when there is no actual scientific evidence to substantiate the claims being made.

Today there are many fake news sites that feature mastheads of fictitious but credible-sounding news organisations, or those that illegally use actual logos of credible news organisations, but are hosted at dubious or slightly altered web addresses.

These sites will publish these fake journal reviews or study findings, peddling them as real science, for a price, of course. Fake news and social media is then used to create a buzz, where consumers share links and extracts of the “amazing new findings” or “results supported by science” through their channels, effectively helping to boost exposure through viral marketing.

2. Miracle cures, products and programmes

This is one of the industry’s most pervasive and ‘stickiest’ myths.

Any product or programme that claims to be ‘revolutionary’ or makes outlandish claims should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.

This form so ‘fake’ news is used to prey on the growing number of desperate individuals who find it increasingly difficult to lose weight or transform their body and lifestyle. Believing these claims doesn’t mean you’re gullible or lack intelligence, though, as emotions can often cloud our judgement.

So, be vigilant to sensational claims, especially those that claim to work miracles, as they seldom, if ever, work.

3. Distorting real-world success stories

Another common trend among unscrupulous pill and powder peddlers is to rip images of successful transformations from credible websites and use them to sell unsuspecting consumers on the effectiveness of unproven products or programmes.

Credible-looking review websites are created, or articles planted on respected sites in the form of advertorials that make wild claims. These are posted with images of individuals, along with their supposed testimonials, showcasing their weight-loss success.

However, in most instances these people and their stories are entirely fictional – in many cases these people don’t actually exist in real life, or names have been changed slightly to avoid detection.

4. Revealing the ‘secrets’ that your trainer doesn’t want you to know

While this is often a form of click-baiting – unscrupulous websites trying to drive up click-throughs to their site to increase traffic and boost ad revenue – there are those sites that take it a step further and actually publish misleading content that is often dangerous.

Ultimately, what incentive does a personal trainer have to keep information from you?

If they don’t achieve the results their clients are after, they’ll likely lose business. So what do they have to gain by keeping effective treatments or tips a secret?

5. Celeb diet fake news

Some qustionable marketers leverage the power of celebrity in an attempt to sell more diet pills and ineffectual weight loss programmes by creating fake celebrity transformation stories and fake product endorsements for fake news sites.

The combination of a celebrity endorsement coupled with the promise of weight-loss success often spreads like wild fire on social media platforms.

But before you believe the hype and click share (or worse, click ‘buy’), consider whether the celebrity weight-loss testimonials is legitimate.

Many are outright scams that amount to fraud as they use the name and image of prominent individuals without permission and create fictitious quotes about why they chose that specific product and how effective it was.

Ultimately, most of these fake celeb news websites are just another way that ‘scamsters’ fabricate and sensationalise content to capture the attention of unsuspecting consumers, usually in the hope that they will buy their unproven (and possibly dangerous) fat-loss products.

Filter fake news

To help you filter fake news, follow these guidelines:

  1. The more outlandish or dogmatic an idea, the more likely it is to be fake news.
  2. Stick to established and trusted sources of information.
  3. Content that carries no by-line, author information, or references to sources is more likely to be fake news.
  4. When visiting websites, look for red flags in areas such as the domain name and ‘About Us’ section. Always check the URL of the website you’ve landed on.
  5. Think before sharing. It is the viral nature of social media that has helped to widely and rapidly spread fake news, in all its forms. Don’t become that person who spreads fake fat-loss news before considering all the facts.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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