Thai Elderly Vulnerable to Fake News, Medicine Scams: Researcher

Elders learning how to use a photo editing app on their smartphones on March 29. Photo: Matichon
Elders learning how to use a photo editing app on their smartphones on March 29. Photo: Matichon

BANGKOK — Elderly Thais are highly vulnerable to fraudulent medicines and health supplements advertised on social and mass media, research by Mahidol University has warned.

Nuntiya Doungphummes, a researcher at Mahidol University’s Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia, has found that older demographics do not sufficiently verify the authenticity of health products advertised to them – leaving them vulnerable to fraud, scams and dangerous products.

“They lack skills in consuming [information]. On Line, they often do not finish reading before passing [information] on,” said Nuntiya whose subjects were found in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Srithammarat, Suphan Buri and Sakol Nakorn.

Her findings are based on a study of 240 elderly subjects across five provinces: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Srithammarat, Suphan Buri and Sakol Nakorn.

Nuntiya’s research findings come in the wake of a widespread MLM being uncovered in the northeast, where elderly villagers were sold potentially dangerous “Energy Cards” under the pretense they could cure ailments.

Nuntiya blames Thailand’s education system for inculcating elderly populations with tendencies to believe what one is told without asking questions. The researcher also posits the elderly are simply more vulnerable to scams because their age renders them more in need of medicine and health supplements.

“One died after taking steroids for six months,” recalled Nuntiya, who presented the findings at a Monday seminar on fake news organized by eight organizations including Thammasat University’s Faculty of Journalism of Thammasat, Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Communication Arts, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Bangkok.

Nuntiya warned that the difficulty among elderly demographics in differentiating real from fraudulent information also extends to political subjects.

“Sometimes they are not sure if they can pass on risky news about the monarchy,” said Nuntiya, adding that social media usage by the eldery in rural areas remains a new phenomenon.

In the morning, the seminar heard Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang stress the importance of timely efforts to remove or counter fake news.

“If [done] after 24 hours then it’s impossible,” said Tang.

Tang also pointed to the need for collaborative fact-checking initiatives in order to prevent the public from falling for disinformation.

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