It’s probably true to say that most of us have at some point googled a set of symptoms from which we are suffering and come to the conclusion that we have a serious life threatening illness. Certainly many clients have come to me panicking after a quick internet search that suggests that they may have something terminal. Fortunately, most of the time this is a misdiagnosis and the fact of the matter is, Google is not a very good doctor. In fact it may not be a very good search engine at all.
The behemoth tech company that is Google has become the go to search engine over the past ten years. Monopolising to such an extent, that the word itself has become synonymous with an internet search and has become itself a verb. Google controls over 90% of searches world wide which gives the company an incredible amount of power. It bestows upon us a lens through which we view the internet and therefore to some extent the outside world. Initially this wasn’t much of a problem, as their algorithms which navigated the internet were fair and based upon amount of use and popularity. However as Google’s popularity grew, people soon began to realise how much influence on the public’s perception it could have.
Google receives over 1 billion health questions per day and the answers that you receive are quite telling. For example if you google ‘who is the world’s most powerful doctor?’, then strangely Bill Gates comes up first…and he’s not even a doctor. As a longtime practitioner of an alternative medicine, I am often having to research various health problems and diseases and I have noticed a worrying trend recently, in that it is becoming harder and harder to find any information on alternative therapies and treatments.
Back in 2015, Google, along with Youtube, Chrome, Maps and Android reorganised themselves by creating an umbrella company known as Alphabet. Also under this umbrella are a diverse number of smaller companies many of which are pharmaceutical companies or have direct ties with them. This may possibly create a conflict of interest and call into question the search engines’ ability to provide an unbiased view of health content on the internet. The search results that you get from Google seem to support this.
Take Google’s autofill option for example. If you type in ‘Chiropractic is…’ into the search bar, the top suggestions are ‘quackery’, ‘pseudoscience’ and ‘dangerous’. I’m sure the U.K’s 3000 chiropractors may disagree with this. Whereas Google is pretty keen to recommend a whole list of drugs for back pain, even though many of which have recently been shown by a study in the British Medical Journal to have very little to no effect. The same kind of thing happens if you google ‘supplements are..’ or ‘organic is.., or ‘Chinese medicine is…’ Try it for yourself, it’s quite sinister.
This situation has become a whole lot worse during the pandemic and internet censorship has reached unprecedented levels. In the space of a few months thousands of Youtube channels and millions of Facebook posts have been deleted. Anyone who has legitimate concerns or questions over the handling of the crisis is immediately being shut down and seemingly wiped off the face of the internet. I have watched many interesting and informative videos by real life doctors on the internet one day, only to never be able to find them again the next. This censorship along with all of the surveillance and data mining has become so prevalent that Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, has proposed that we invent a new one.
But until that happens it’s probably best that we take responsibility for our own health and well being. The internet, and particularly Google, doesn’t know what is best for our health. How can it? It’s never even met us. We are fantastically complicated and miraculous organisms, whose complexity cannot be whittled down to a few algorithms. Your body is different to mine and a treatment that may work for you may not work for me. If with a little sensitivity, we can begin to listen to our own bodies and to investigate things with discernment, critical thinking and perhaps even intuition, then we may be able to find the treatments, practices or practitioners that are truly beneficial to our health.
Matt Fellows 07956 328213