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The fight against vaccine misinformation is on

March 8, 2019 • Features, Healthcare, Online & Social, Top Stories

The fight against vaccine misinformation is on

Ethan Lindenberger (Image Credit: independent.co.uk)

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate has been somewhat of a controversial topic in recent years. An anti-vaccination or “anti-vax” rhetoric has been slowly gaining traction across the globe and is leading to outbreaks of easily preventable diseases. Something that has contributed heavily to this phenomena is something a lot of us use every day: social media.

Most notable is the story of Ethan Lindenberger, an American teenager who defied his mother’s wishes by getting vaccinated for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza, and HPV, according to the Washington Post. He also recently spoke alongside state health officials and vaccine experts at a Senate committee hearing focused on what’s causing vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.

According to Lindenberger, his mother gets most of her anti-vax information from Facebook.

Now an advocate for vaccinations, Lindenberger described how Facebook is used to propagate anti-vax sentiment, whereby groups use the site to try and convince parents not to vaccinate their children.

That said, social media platforms where this kind of misinformation is prevalent, such as Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube, are cracking down on it.

Searches for any vaccine content has been banned on Pinterest since September due to its large user base of mothers accessing misinformation on the platform.

YouTube announced anti-vaccine videos will no longer be monetized with ads.

Monika Bickert, Facebook VP of Global Policy Management spoke about how Facebook is working to tackle vaccine misinformation on the site by reducing its distribution and providing people with authoritative information on the topic. The steps they are taking include:

  • Reducing 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.
  • Finding ads that include misinformation about vaccinations and rejecting them. Related targeting options, like “vaccine controversies” have also been removed. For ad accounts that continue to violate Facebook’s policies, it may take further action, such as disabling the ad account.
  • Not showing or recommending content that contains misinformation about vaccinations on Instagram Explore or hashtag pages.
  • Exploring ways to share educational information about vaccines when people come across misinformation on this topic.

More on how Facebook’s plan will work

Leading global health organisations, such as the World Health Organisation and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have publicly identified verifiable vaccine hoaxes. If these vaccine hoaxes appear on Facebook, we will take action against them.

For example, if a group or Page admin posts this vaccine misinformation, we will exclude the entire group or Page from recommendations, reduce these groups and Pages’ distribution in News Feed and Search, and reject ads with this misinformation.

We also believe in providing people with additional context so they can decide whether to read, share, or engage in conversations about information they see on Facebook. We are exploring ways to give people more accurate information from expert organisations about vaccines at the top of results for related searches, on Pages discussing the topic, and on invitations to join groups about the topic. We will have an update on this soon.

By Daniëlle Kruger
Follow Daniëlle Kruger on Twitter
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