Misinformation victim opens up about being conned by bleach cancer cure marketing

The Classification Office has released the first nationally representative report of its kind about the impacts of misleading and false information on New Zealanders.

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The impact on New Zealanders has been made clear in a national survey of more than 2,000 people. Source: 1 NEWS

The Edge of the Infodemic: Challenging Misinformation in Aotearoa includes findings from surveys with 2301 people aged 16 years and over.

Chief Censor David Shanks told 1 NEWS he found the comments shared by respondents about misinformation and disinformation particularly striking.

"It's really concerning and it's very real for people," Shanks said.

The report showed 57 per cent of respondents believed they'd come across misinformation in the past six months and seven per cent believed this was a daily occurrence.

Around 80 per cent of those surveyed said they were concerned about the spread of misinformation in New Zealand and believe it's becoming more common over time.

The majority of people (90 per cent) think misinformation is influencing people's views about public health and 75 per cent think false information about Covid-19 is an urgent and serious threat to society.

Emma Foley. Source: 1 NEWS

Emma Foley experienced the impact of misinformation when in 2016, her family were marketed a bleach-based product as a cure for her father's cancer, something she now views as a scam.

He drank the liquid on and off at different periods in his cancer journey, including when he was in hospice care before his death, she said.

"There needs to be a bigger awareness around it because at the time you don't necessarily know that it's happening and you trust people at face value and when you're in a vulnerable position you're willing to grasp at anything that, you know, in dad's case it was giving him another shot at life," Foley told 1 NEWS.

Foley said it was a difficult issue to give advice to others about on reflection, given the complexities and emotions attached to each situation, but education campaigns about misinformation would help as well as people considering the views of trusted individuals in their community.

"We felt like we had our evidence and that we were doing the right thing, so much so I suggested it to other people," she said.

Foley said she felt disappointed other people may continue to find themselves in her family's situation with the product. 

Survey respondents reported coming across misinformation on Covid-19, US and New Zealand politics, clickbait or opinion-based news articles and social media posts, vaccines, conspiracy theories and climate change and other environmental issues.

The report showed 50 per cent of respondents agreed with at least one statement associated with false or misleading information presented in the survey.

Dr Marek Lang, a general practitioner and rural hospital doctor, said it's a complex issue to combat in the health setting as approaching the subject of misinformation in the wrong way could see a patient with deep-seated views of mistrust in the health sector, not return for an appointment.

Lang said he provides the correct information if there's a risk to the patient through their action or view based on misinformation or if they ask for advice or clarity.

He said he was recently asked about the Covid-19 vaccine by a fearful patient who had received a misleading pamphlet about the medicine.

"Really it's allaying those fears... saying things like, 'I've had the vaccine, I did my own research and thought it stood up to the rigour of having it myself and my family...," he said.

Shanks said combatting misinformation requires greater action from Government agencies, social media platforms and the wider online industry, as well as the community.

Shanks is calling for greater transparency requirements for social media and education programmes based around identifying misinformation.

He said the public should question who is the source of information, what has been done to grab their attention and what would the reaction be of other's if it was shared on someone's social media platform.

Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti said officials will be looking into whether the issue is something that could form part of a regulatory update that's being worked on.

"Mis- and disinformation is definitely within the scope of the content review that we're looking at, we just haven't worked out what that will look like yet," she said.