Nearly half of Americans get their news from Facebook. This startling fact came out after the 2016 presidential election when surveys showed 44% of the country listed Facebook as their primary source of news information.
This makes it vital that Facebook combat misinformation on their platforms that is harming the nation. Vaccine misinformation is the latest concern. The leadership of Facebook is well-known for their liberal ideology but even they have expressed their determination to stop the anti-vaccine hysteria that flourishes in the liberal community.
Nearly three months ago, Facebook pledged to fight vaccine misinformation but it seems their efforts thus far have failed. Jeff Horwitz, writing in The Wall Street Journal, says Facebook is still running paid ads for a prominent antivaccination group that suggests unethical doctors have conspired to hide evidence of harm vaccines do to children.
He says both the company’s main platform and its Instagram app recommend additional antivaccine content to users who view similar material. And the top three vaccine-related accounts recommended by Instagram are “vaccine-truth”, “vaccinesuncovered” and “vaccines revealed” – all advocates for the discredited claim that vaccines are toxic.
This campaign of misinformation is having deadly consequences. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 971 new cases of measles this year thus far which represents the highest level in more than 25 years. Although no deaths have been reported yet, the incidence of death from measles is about one case in 1000.
Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management, admits they are failing. She said, “We’re not where we want to be and we know that.”She stated the company’s aim in the case of vaccination is to prevent the spread of specific types of false information, not silence antivaccine activists. It seems this strategy is a failure.
Facebook’s policy is to exclude ads that have falsehoods in their actual text while still tolerating ads from antivaccine groups that promote blatantly false statements on their websites. For instance, the World Mercury Project, a prominent antivaccination organization, is pitching a free e-book alleging that vaccines can cause autism, sudden infant death syndrome and sterility – all claims that Facebook would ban under its stated policy because they have been widely discredited by the scientific community.
While Facebook claims to take this issue seriously, others believe their efforts reveal a lack of commitment and divided interests. Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor University’s school of tropical medicine, said he has observed no changes since Facebook said it would intervene. Its activities to date on antivaccine content are “the minimum possible in order to give the illusion of corporate responsibility.”
The proof of Hotez’s claims comes from Elaine Shtein, an antivaccine activist whose son was diagnosed with autism. She said Facebook’s crackdown hasn’t lessened the attention her posts have garnered. “I don’t feel like my content is being censored. I still have things being shared out, go viral.”