I have Essential Tremor, as well as a lot of the symptoms that suggest Parkinsons, and I have been involved in support groups on Facebook for a few years now, but I have noticed a strange trend, that others don’t seem to pick up on very well and it is leading to a very effective way to deceive lots of people — especially older people who may not realize the difference between a legitimately scholarly article and a fake designed to spam people.
The spammer will typically have an ordinary American name, and will post an article which is emblazoned with a headline that matches the nature of the support group, such as “New Research in Multiple Sclerosis Treatment” and the article will be dated within a few days to appear as if new.
However, if you follow the link, you’ll be taken to a site that has a highly spammy-sounding domain with odd extensions (to the effect of healthbenefit.info or latestresearch.website just as an example of the style), and the content of the article will be an actual old article or combination of actual articles that are really just cut-and-pasted from other scholarly articles, but from years ago that have since been refuted.
A friend of mine with MS was recently tagged in one of these, which was shared quite innocently by a friend of his with good intentions.
Below are a few red flags to watch out for:
1. Look at the website name first. If it says something generic like “bestcure.info” or “amazinghelp.site” or “findinganswers.help” or something similar, then proceed with caution. I haven’t encountered any that have trojans yet, but I’m not going to be surprised when that starts happening. This generic domain name, even if it says something slightly more specific like “latestparkinsons.site” be careful.
2. Without clicking on it yet, try to google the first few lines of the text preview, and use quotes around the whole phrase when searching. In the case of the above example, the article at the fake site states it was published in April 2016, but searching for “An Italian doctor has been getting dramatic results with” leads to an article from November 2009 with the identical story, as if it were just lifted straight out and republished.
Although the original looks even spammier (loaded with advertisements), at least it cites its sources, which most of the spammy don’t — plus this post is the earliest version google can locate for now, so google at least lends it some credibility for being the first to publish this article.
At the end of the original, however, an update is provided that the results of that announcement had been refuted in 2013, from a 2013 trial — but the spam article doesn’t post the refutation, since maintaining the false hope this could still be a viable solution for patients in desperate need of help is a really easy way to ensnare readers.
As a word of advice, consider employing these strategies before sharing any “amazing breakthrough” kinds of medical articles, even if your intention is hope for someone you love. If you’re in doubt with whether the site is authentic, then don’t share it.
Research on your own, such as googling the doctor’s name, or seeing if the article you’re reading provides any links to where they got their information. If the article references a certain study at university of something, google that university study and find out if it’s real first, or find out if there have been any studies that refute those claims. Don’t contribute to more confusion the way that other people might believe that you did research it, when you didn’t.