Following the lead of Pinterest and YouTube, Facebook has announced new policies that will decrease the visibility of vaccine misinformation on the social media platform. These efforts will include actions such as rejecting false advertising and prohibiting pages and groups that spread the misinformation from appearing in search results.
This strategy is strikingly similar to the one it uses to handle fake news, in that it does not remove incorrect content, but focuses on minimizing its reach.
The announcement, which Facebook made on March 7, follows weeks of lawmakers and public health advocates calling for action to curb misinformation surrounding vaccines. With a current measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest infecting 71 people, most of whom are unvaccinated children, these advocates point to the correlation between the inundation of inaccurate information on social media platforms and the resurgence of previously eradicated diseases.
According to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Measles and Rubella Initiative, the measles vaccine has saved 17.1 million lives since 2000. Despite this statistic, the anti-vaccination community believes that vaccinations are toxic and cause a variety of conditions, including autism. Some members of this community also believe in a conspiracy that the government and pharmaceutical industry are keeping the truth about vaccines away from the public.
On Facebook, the anti-vaccination movement has an audience of hundreds of thousands of users spread over a variety of groups and pages. The growth of the movement on the social media platform was partially made possible by an internal search engine that would include anti-vaccination content high in its search results list and a recommendation engine that would point users to groups and pages with medically inaccurate information they would not have found otherwise.
According to Facebook’s announcement, the platform will exclude pages and groups that spread misinformation about vaccinations from appearing in recommendations and search predictions and reduce their ranking in users’ News Feeds. This new policy will also apply to Instagram Explore and hashtag pages.
Although 62% of marketers choose Facebook as their number-one choice for social media marketing, the platform is also taking a stand against advertisers who spread vaccination misinformation. The social media giant’s new policy stipulates that it will reject ads containing inaccurate information and advertisers are not allowed to target people interested in controversies surrounding vaccines. If advertisers violate these policies, Facebook will disable them.
To judge what counts as vaccine hoaxes and misinformation, Facebook said it will depend on the advice of the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Facebook announced its new initiative less than a week after the release of a large study that found the measles vaccine did not increase the risk of or trigger autism. According to the report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, children who received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine were 7% less likely to develop autism that children who did not get vaccinated. Researchers examined data on 657,461 children born in Denmark to Danish-born mothers from 1999 to 2010. They followed each child from the age of one through the end of Aug. 2013.
With the chances of a marriage lasting at 50%, children have a higher risk of experiencing divorce from marital problems than developing autism from a vaccine. Lead study author Dr. Anders Hviid encourages parents to shed their fears and vaccinate their children.
“Parents should not skip the vaccine out of fear for autism. The dangers of not vaccinating includes a resurgence in measles which we are seeing signs of today in the form of outbreaks,” Hviid said.