Fears of parasites have led thousands of people to post pictures of their own feces in a private Facebook group and then pursue a range of remedies proposed by other group members that medical experts consider unsubstantiated by scientific research and potentially dangerous.
The posts are another example of the wide variety of health misinformation that can be found on Facebook, and add to the pressure on the social media giant to rein in such misinformation, if not ban it outright.
The posts in these groups follow a clear pattern: A member writes about a perceived health condition or symptoms along with any regimen they’re undergoing. Then, in the first comment, the member usually follows up with a photo of what they claim is their poop.
These people are all convinced that their bodies are littered with parasites.
“What is this? It feels like a slug. It is at least 2 inches long and it is the only thing that came out. Pic in comments,” reads a recent post in the Humaworm Parasite Removal & Natural Health Group, which has 33,000 Facebook members.
Humaworm is just one of many Facebook groups in which people come together to share and diagnose what they claim are parasitic infections. The groups also share a variety of treatments that are not backed up by science.
One private group with 1,300 members, called “Parasites cause all Disease,” promotes drinking turpentine to cure ailments.
Parasites, which are organisms that live on or in a host that also serves as its food source, are a legitimate health concern and can cause diseases such as malaria, toxoplasmosis and Chagas disease. But the claims made by Humaworm and other parasite groups — that 90 percent of Americans are hosts to parasites that are making them seriously ill — are drastically overstated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And while these groups have been under pressure from authorities, including a recent raid by federal agents on the business behind the Humaworm group, they have so far been successful in sidestepping Facebook’s broader crackdown on health misinformation in part by adapting to new rules, including the use of coded phrasing such as “fairy tales” in an attempt to portray their activities as works of fiction.
The group’s members, however, clearly take the topic seriously. Many of the posts come from parents looking for ways to treat what they believe are parasites in their children.
“What is a safe way to start a 5 year old on a parasite treatment/cleanse?” one mother posted this week.