Facebook Might Remove Anti-Vaccine Recommendations

Anti-vaxxers are spreading conspiracy theories on Facebook and the company is struggling to stop them

Critics, like Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democrat from California, have called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a letter Thursday to take action on the spike in false vaccine information running rampant on the platforms.

Schiff's letter was also sent to Google, which has already taken some measures to limit anti-vaccine information, Bloomberg noted.

"The algorithms which power these services are not created to distinguish quality information from misinformation or misleading information, and the consequences of that are particularly troubling for public health issues", Schiff said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 101 cases of measles have been reported in at least 10 states so far this year compared to 372 cases all of last year. "Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, an estimated 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States", said the CDC. Last month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency after 35 cases of measles cropped up in Clark County, where almost a quarter of kids attend school without MMR immunizations.

In a statement yesterday Facebook said it's considering the removal of anti-vaxxer misinformation (via Business Insider).

Although the spread of misinformation about immunizations has potentially fatal repercussions, a Facebook spokesperson said the company doesn't believe removing such content doesn't help to increase awareness.


Facebook did not immediately respond to a request Friday on whether the company's stance on these issues has changed. The World Health Organization says that 2018 saw a "record high" number of cases across Europe.

Meanwhile, the pressure is heating up for the world's largest social network. The study found less than half were "highly credible". Vaccinations ranked among the three most popular story topics.

It's a hard balance, and one that Facebook will always struggle to maintain, but it does add another, less wholesome element to The Social Network's wider groups push. One such group, "Stop Mandatory Vaccination", has about 154,000 members, while a quick search will reveal scores of groups sharing information relating to the "truth" about vaccines. With that influence comes the responsibility to manage how it's used - and while Facebook has long sought to distance itself from editorial oversight, or overt censorship, there is a question over the role it plays in enabling movements like this to grow.

"The algorithms which power these services are not created to distinguish quality information from misinformation or misleading information, and the consequences of that are particularly troubling for public health issues", said Schiff in the letter addressed to both tech execs.

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