Have you ever come across cancer related information on social media? If Not, maybe you are less informed, if Yes, maybe you are very misinformed. Cancer has become a topic difficult to avoid discussion especially when it affects us or our loved ones. Traditional media has not broken the ice enough for the public to confidently talk about cancer. Social media has been filling this information gap as an alternative media platform.
Social media has revolutionized information dissemination. Facebook and WhatsApp are the most popular social media apps used in Uganda. Everyone can have their say on social media, the difference is the authenticity of the message. The public has been unable to separate “fake” information from facts since cancer is a technical topic. Below are the different ways in which social media is being used to spread information about cancer.
The first use has been adding new meanings to the word cancer. The word cancer has been used to mean something bad, devastating and something very capable of destroying. On social media, one Facebook user posted that “Liberalism is like a pervasive and destructive cancer that rots away the healthy if left unchecked. “ The figurative use of the word cancer proves of the stigma in society about cancer.
Social media is also bombarding myth after myth to the public. This has often heightened the panic and tension in the topic of cancer. The public has become more uncertain and confused over myths that have no scientific backing. An example is a post on Facebook that claims that rubber sandals cause cancer. Another Facebook user claims that jackfruit cures cancer, another that marijuana cures cancer. A certain whatsapp text claims that 97% of chemotherapy fails yet doctors recommend it while another claims that baking powder can treat cancer. Most if these are unfounded myths that become viral on social media.
Despite this role, social media has been used to spread facts that traditional media can not dare spread. An example is a video on Facebook and whatsapp where a veteran police officer in the United States claims that the government is hiding the cure for cancer. The police officer gives a convincing narration of how his daughter suffered from cancer and all the doctors did was to put her on chemotherapy, a treatment that did not work. The policeman withdrew the daughter from the hospital and he started reading books about cancer treatment. The treatment he got from one of the books worked and her daughter died cancer free. She died from the effects of chemotherapy. Another video on Facebook recorded from an Australian television claims that an extract from a berry only found in Australia can cure cancer. This cure was used on several patients and it works in 48 hours. Should we ignore this information just because its from social media? No. We should put more inquiry on it.
Social media has also been used to create acceptance of cancer patients in society. This has been dominant especially for ladies who end up shaving their heads clean as cancer patients. Ladies value their beauty and their acceptance in society and on social media means life to them. There is an example on Facebook where a girl suffering from cancer had her head shaved clean and all her classmates in college shaved clean to show solidarity. Another is a picture of a clean shaven lady attending a social event.
Social media has also been playing politics with cancer. An example is a post of a local leader campaigning for election with the promise that she is ready to fight cancer. Another post from a Ugandan a cancer machine was much more important than the “presidential handshake “. In the United Stated, people are using social media to campaign for free cancer treatment in the new healthcare bill that is still being processed. Some social media users even call their political opponents “a cancer “
Social media is also being used to create sympathy on those suffering from cancer and appealing for financial help for treatment. Those that loose their loved ones have not hesitated to pour their emotions on social media. An example is a post of an aged Vietnamese man appealing for just prayers from his Facebook friends for her wife suffering from cancer. Another man lost his beloved dog to cancer, he drew a powerful portrait of the dog as much as it was his first piece of art. The man went ahead to post his portrait plus a poem for the dog on Facebook. This is the major content about cancer on social media. Emotions. Some celebrate surviving cancer as others moan the loss of their loved ones through cancer.
Fridah Nana, a third year student of Developmental Studies at Makerere University says that she has frequently come across cancer related information on social media and shares it to her friends. She says that it has come to her concern that cancer related deaths are in the rise especially among ladies and she is cautious about it.
Amos Jemutai, a second year student at Makerere University hates the mere mention of the word cancer. He does not read information about cancer on social media and requests for a shift of topic after a short discussion. He says that he got this attitude when he visited the wards at Uganda cancer Institute. He saw very sick people sleeping on the floors and he rushed back home almost nauseating.
We need to find a way to break the ice on cancer information among our population. Young people should get more knowlegible because the earlier the disease is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat it. Authorities on cancer information need to join social media platforms to offer more accurate and useful information. Traditional media and government should step up their efforts in creating cancer awareness.