It’s little wonder that some people get a bit schizophrenic about the web. Is it the greatest thing since sliced bread or is it the handmaid of the Devil?
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On the one hand, it is said that the internet is such a good thing it means that cover-ups, lies, crimes and corruption cannot happen in significant amounts because of the ubiquitous mobile phone camera and the internet ….
And on the other, the dangers of largely public-created content and false experts, mean that people are endangering themselves by medically self-diagnosing on the internet.
No Secrets Now?
Some people believe that what we now know as the 1989 cover-up of failures in policing and other services at the Hillsborough football stadium could not happen again.
People are ready to film anything and everything now. A public demonstration will find almost any incident recorded at once, as will road crashes, even robberies have been caught by citizen camera and CCTV.
But it’s the fact that images are then sent global in seconds that makes the web such a powerful tool for good. Rolling 24-hour TV news keeps people well informed, but even that cannot always keep up with the speed of public service pictures from ordinary people.
The same people who write the wikis, populate YouTube with their videos and contribute to crowd sourcing, are the same ordinary, responsible citizens who want to make a contribution, show people things for all sorts of reasons.
This must surely have a generally beneficial effect on officialdom at all times. If they know and remember that all their public actions are liable to be recorded and put on display, then that has to be good, doesn’t it?
Obviously openness must not prevent them doing their job in the first place, a job which is often difficult and dangerous and dealing with people who are violent, aggressive and unpredictable.
The use of the internet to bypass expert knowledge is a different matter. Apparently more of us are hypochondriacs who turn to the web to find our symptoms (real and imagined) and act on what we read. Or who don’t act for fear of having suspected bad news confirmed.
The Government who set up the NHS Helpline started the trend. Describe what is ailing you over the phone and somebody who cannot see you will prescribe something, even if it’s going to see a real doctor, and you feel reassured.
Or not, as the case may be. Many sites give contradictory advice and you can end up paranoid. The ‘worried well’ are people who fall for misdiagnosis and/or exaggeration easily. For instance, the headache can mean a brain tumour; the tummy ache can be bowel cancer.
Self-diagnosis by web now has an official name. It is cyberchondria!
Some doctors believe that a reliable website will give patients information that allows them to make informed decisions culminating in the making of an appointment with a doctor. NHS sites give accurate information about diseases and patient.co.uk is a well respected place for information.
Others fear that dodgy advice on some sites and the ready availability of quack/fake remedies and drugs online (extreme shopping), both prescription and illegal, are dangerous.
People will see the worst case scenario every time, and may link unconnected symptoms and come up with a plague, while missing what is the underlying problem they actually have.
Like all things, the web is a truly mixed bag of goodies and evils. Be careful how you dip your hands inside and what you pull out.
Digital Rubber-Neckers are Despicable and Selfish, 18 September 2012
Wikis Help Keep the Net Open, 17 January 2012
Self-Googling: The Latest Fix for Extreme Computer Sport Junkies, 9 March 2012
Extreme Shopping Is Not the Eccentric Fun It Sounds, 21 August 2012
The NHS and New Technology, 25 January 2012
tags: self diagnosis, rubber neckers, cyberchondria