The fear of parasites has led thousands of people to post photos of their own feces in a private Facebook group and then look for a series of remedies proposed by other group members that medical experts consider not backed by potentially dangerous scientific research. .
The publications are another example of the great variety of erroneous health information that can be found on Facebook, and add to the pressure on the social media giant to curb such erroneous information, if not ban it completely.
Publications in these groups follow a clear pattern: a member writes about a perceived health condition or symptoms along with any regimen to which they are subjected. Then, in the first comment, the member usually follows with a picture of what they say is their poop.
All these people are convinced that their bodies are full of parasites.
"What is this? It feels like a slug. It is at least 2 inches long and is the only thing that came out. Pic in the comments," reads a recent publication of the Humaworm Parasite and Natural Health Removal 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 by science.
A private group with 1,300 members, called "Parasites cause all diseases," promotes drinking turpentine to cure ailments.
Parasites, which are organisms that live in or in a host that also serves as a food source, are a legitimate health problem and can cause diseases such as malaria, toxoplasmosis and Chagas disease. But the claims made by Humaworm and other groups of parasites [that 90 percent of Americans are hosts of parasites that are seriously ill] are drastically exaggerated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And although these groups have been under pressure from the authorities, including a recent raid by federal agents in the business behind the Humaworm group, they have so far succeeded in circumventing Facebook’s broader repression of erroneous health information, in part by adapting to the new rules, including the use of phrases coded as "fairy tales" in an attempt to portray their activities as works of fiction.
Group members, however, clearly take the issue seriously. Many of the publications come from parents looking for ways to treat what they believe are parasites in their children.
"What is a sure way to start a 5-year-old child with a parasite treatment / cleaning?" A mother published this week.
In the past year, health advocates and legislators have been increasingly critical of social media platforms, including Facebook and YouTube, for hosting and recommending content that disseminates erroneous health information.
While Facebook has taken steps to reduce the pages against vaccination and provide warnings on pages and groups that promote disinformation of the vaccine, they did not ban the accounts that promote such content. This summer, Facebook said it would reduce the reach of posts with "exaggerated or sensational health claims," but declined to act in groups that promote potentially dangerous remedies.
Facebook did not answer questions related to the Humaworm community, but groups that promote similar products of questionable safety have been removed for violating Facebook's rules on "non-medical drugs," which prohibit content that promotes drug sales or describes Personal use of drugs outside recovery.
Byers Market Bulletin
Get breaking news and insider analysis about the rapidly changing world of media and technology directly in your inbox.
But the specter of a ban hangs over the groups, an indication that Facebook's repression has forced these groups to change the way they work.
Federal agents executed a search warrant last month at Humaworm headquarters in Carrollton, Mississippi, a business of which Reba Bailey, 48, manufactured and sold homemade herbal pills that she said could clean the body of parasites and treat Almost all diseases, from headaches to cancer. . Agents confiscated equipment, herbs and computers, according to Bailey's social media posts.
The raid led Bailey to make the Humaworm group private.
"ANNOUNCEMENT: HUMAWORM IS CLOSED TODAY," Bailey published in his then public group. “I can't talk about why. I WILL HIDE THIS GROUP. "
After the October raid, Bailey changed the name of her Humaworm Parasite Removal & Natural Health Group Facebook group to Parasites & Natural Health, and she and her group members began referring to specific herbal recipes as "tales of Fairies "to evade what they fear. It's an upcoming Facebook ban, according to the posts seen by NBC News.
"Is there a fairytale porridge recipe for Lyme in a five-year-old or nursing mother?" Asked a member after Bailey released the recipes for several other herbal remedies.
Many of the publications in Bailey's group are not from people seeking advice for themselves, but from parents seeking ways to treat what they believe are parasites in their children.
"Omg, my 5 month old son just spent about 50 worms 🐛 how can such a young baby spend so many and have so many!", Another published in the Humaworm group, along with a picture of a dirty diaper.
Many of the comments suggested that the solutions offered by Humaworm are intended to "detoxify" the baby, while other responses advised the mother to stop feeding her children with bananas.
One replied: "It's just baby poop."
Bailey did not respond to requests for comments sent by email and Facebook message, and a message left on the company's phone number was not returned. A GoFundMe campaign for Bailey's living expenses has raised $ 3,500, and he has quickly written a recipe book for his products that he is selling for $ 39.99.
The FDA declined to comment on the raid "as a matter of policy," according to a spokesman.
"Seek medical attention"
Internet provides a lot of information and connectivity for the sick and their doctors. But for people who are too anxious, isolated or desperate for the symptoms that doctors have not been able to name or treat, online diagnoses and participation in social media groups such as those dedicated to cleaning parasites on Facebook can increase their fears, a phenomenon known as Cyberchondria.
The wrong belief that the body is being invaded by worms also has a name: delusional parasitosis.
Posts in the parasite's Facebook groups document the effects of many of the suggested remedies. Humaworm and other "miraculous" cures of parasites not approved by the FDA have caused general pain, rashes, headaches, fevers, heart irregularities and flu symptoms, according to publications seeking confirmation that these are symptoms of " death "of the parasite. Negative effects are actually a positive sign, triggered by dying parasites.
"These types of cures are things we used to see before medical knowledge or research," said Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor and social media researcher at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. "The environment of the media is degrading so much that we are wandering back, towards the medieval era."
"People read less about medicine from journalists or medical professionals," Grygiel said. "It's not even Doctor Google anymore. People are increasingly dependent on social networks and Facebook is reaping the benefits."
The group's movement to hide also poses challenges for those who try to find and address erroneous health information online.
"Groups can become private or hidden at any time, making it difficult for journalists and researchers to show what is happening on Facebook," said Grygiel. "And that is strategic on Facebook."
Side effects aside, using a photo on Facebook to diagnose a parasitic infection is unreliable, said Dr. Benjamin Levy, head of the gastroenterology division at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago.
"The appearance of stool is useful when it comes to determining the state of hydration," Levy said. But people worried about parasites "should go see a doctor and ask the doctor to order the stool test, where a laboratory can observe the sample under a microscope."
Levy offered a warning about enemas, supplements and other home remedies promoted by group members.
"Depending on the device or substance used, it can cause irritation or abrasions and can break off the skin or mucosa and exacerbate hemorrhoids," Levy said. “In 2019, we have excellent medications that have been studied and considered safe. My advice would be to seek medical attention before seeking solutions on the Internet. "