The existence of such a phenomenon was revealed by researchers from the University of California (San Diego), whose article was published in Journal of the American Medical Association.
John Ayers and his colleagues focused on analyzing the content of the popular English-language social network Reddit, which has about 330 million active users per month. The site has more than 230 forums that discuss topics related to certain health problems, and one of them is devoted to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). As noted by Ayers, all of these forums were originally intended for the exchange of information and social support, but in the end, in fact, turned into a tool for making "people's diagnoses."
The STI forum is no exception. Ayers and his colleagues analyzed about 17,000 anonymous posts published on this forum, from its opening in November 2010 until February 2019. The monthly number of posts over the years has been steadily increasing. Researchers selected 500 random publications to find out how many of them were dedicated to finding a “popular diagnosis.”
Of these, 58% turned out to be, that is, in about three out of every five posts published on this forum, their authors ask other visitors to diagnose them, and about a third of such publications are accompanied by a detailed photograph of the genitals.
At the same time, about 20% of the authors have already managed to visit a doctor, even take tests and, in fact, get a reasonable medical diagnosis, but people still turn to social networks in the hope that this frightening information will be refuted, Ayers said.
As an example, Ayers cited a user who wrote that he was diagnosed with HIV, he was very scared, and therefore he asked visitors to the site what they think, is this a mistake? In response, he was immediately assured that he had no HIV. This means that this person will not only not be treated, but will continue to infect others, Ayers noted.
In general, almost all requests for a “folk diagnosis” receive answers, often within a few minutes. There is always a huge number of strangers who are ready to help, without bearing any responsibility. The danger of the “popular diagnosis” phenomenon is that people get incorrect, misleading information, which increases the risk of spreading infections, Ayers explained. He believes that it is the growing popularity of "diagnoses on the Internet" that can underlie the real STI epidemic, which is now observed in many developed countries of the world.