Facebook will finally remove false vaccine claims, including that jabs cause autism3 min read
Facebook will remove false claims about vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts, including content stating that Covid-19 is man-made, that vaccines cause autism or are ineffective at preventing the diseases they’ve been designed to protect against.
While the social network has been under pressure to curb the rise of anti-vaxx conspiracy theories and other incorrect claims about vaccinations on its platform for years, the coronavirus pandemic has heightened the need for reliable information amid the roll out of global vaccination programmes.
The company said it has extended that list of false claims it will take down under its coronavirus harmful misinformation policies on Facebook and sister platform Instagram, including content claiming it is safer to contract a disease than to receive a vaccine and claims that all vaccines are “toxic, dangerous or cause autism”.
False claims fuelling fear
False claims linked to the safety and efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines is a major obstacle to vaccinating the nation. Leading doctors have encouraged faith leaders to speak to elderly members of minority ethnic groups to “dispel fears” around vaccine hesitancy, particularly given mounting evidence that people from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups are disproportionately more likely to die from the virus.
“We will begin enforcing this policy immediately, with a particular focus on pages, groups and accounts that violate these rules, and we’ll continue to expand our enforcement over the coming weeks,” said Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president for integrity.
“Groups, pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that repeatedly share these debunked claims may be removed altogether.”
Facebook has also added links to the NHS website in its Covid-19 Information Centre to help people work out if they’re eligible for a vaccine and how to get one.
A report from the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) last year claimed that anti-vaxxers are using private Facebook groups to train members in converting the ‘vaccine-hesitant’ into anti-vaccine activists, capitalising on conspiracy theories and attempting to spread fear and uncertainty over vaccine safety.
Widespread vaccine hesitancy
Facebook groups successfully convert people by providing effective “answering spaces” for addressing hesitancy around vaccines, identifying those who are exhibiting signs of vaccine hesitancy, testing their receptiveness to anti-vaccine content and pointing them towards online training courses to turn them into grassroots activists, the report found.
Imran Ahmed, CCDH’s Chief Executive, said that Facebook’s repeated promises to combat vaccine misinformation had “failed to meet their claims”, and expressed scepticism about the company’s latest efforts.
“Months after they promised to crack down on Covid misinformation, we reported hundreds of posts containing dangerous misinformation to Facebook, but just one in 10 of those posts were removed,” he said.
“Millions of people are being fed dangerous lies which lead them to doubt government guidance on Covid and on vaccines, prolonging the pandemic. These lies cost lives. Facebook needs to spend less time on PR and more on fixing its broken platform.”
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It is crucial to ensure that social media platforms are not used to disseminate harmful information that can lead to negative consequences. By taking this action, Facebook is showing a responsibility to its users and the broader community. However, there is still more to be done in the fight against vaccine misinformation, and it is important for all stakeholders to work together to address this issue.
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