Facebook Finally Cracks Down On The Spread Of Anti-Vax Propaganda

by Julie Scagell
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Image via Getty Images/Glow Images

They followed large platforms like YouTube, Pinterest, and Amazon also combatting misinformation

Facebook, who has been under the microscope for not addressing anti-vaccination information on their site, is the latest to join a growing number of other platforms looking to clamp down on anti-vaccination misinformation being spread by “providing people with authoritative information on the topic.”

The social media giant outlined the guidelines via a press release this week, laying out the specific actions they will be taking as an organization to ensure both content and ads containing misinformation or hoaxes be eliminated. “We will reduce the ranking of groups and pages that spread misinformation about vaccinations in news feed and search. These groups and pages will not be included in recommendations or in predictions when you type into search,” Facebook’s vice president of global policy management Monika Bickert said.

Additionally, Facebook stated they fill reject ads when they’re found to include misinformation about vaccines. “We won’t show or recommend content that contains misinformation about vaccinations on Instagram Explore or hashtag pages,” they explain. Additionally, advertisers who repeatedly violate the ban may be in jeopardy of having their ad accounts disabled or additional “severe” penalties.

In early February, the Guardian reported that all of the top 12 Facebook groups and eight of the top 12 Facebook pages that come up when users searched the word “vaccination” were anti-vaccine propaganda groups and pages. That report prompted Democratic congressman Adam Schiff to urge the company to take action against vaccine misinformation.

The urgency around the topic comes on the heels of recent outbreaks throughout the country of preventable diseases like measles, prompting some states to declare a state of emergency. Yesterday, there were reports of a mumps outbreak at Temple University. The cases are popping up at such a rapid pace, The World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy as one of the top threats to global health in 2019 because they are undermining the safety of those unable to be vaccinated.

Facebook also announced they will be working with organizations like the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to help identify and target hoaxes spreading anti-vaxx sentiment as they surface online. They did say they won’t be censoring people’s individual opinions from being expressed on their pages, but addressing the larger and more pervasive ads, hashtagging, and content.

Facebook is also exploring ways to share “educational information about vaccines when people come across misinformation on this topic,” understanding people are inundated with misinformation about the dangers of vaccines. One such belief widely held by anti-vaxxers is that vaccines cause autism, a link that has been disputed by multiple scientific bodies, including another report just this week.

“The crucial test will be whether the steps outlined by Google and Facebook do in fact reduce the spread of anti-vaccine content on their platforms, thereby making it less likely to reach users who are simply seeking quality, fact-based health information for their children and families,” Schiff said of the announcement.

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