Facebook Failing to Curb Vaccine Misinformation

 

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.”

Limiting Vaccination Exemptions

 

The time has come for limiting vaccine exemptions. In my last post, Do Adults Need the Measles Vaccine?, I discussed the growing crisis of measles reinfestation in this country and other parts of the world after near eradication many years ago.

The problem is fake news about the safety of vaccines. Bogus medical research by British doctor Andrew Wakefield was published in 1998 in the British medical journal, The Lancet. He claimed measles vaccine caused autism. This research has since been discredited and The Lancetpublished a retraction. Wakefield was even stripped of his medical license in 2010.

Yet the myth of vaccine-associated autism continues, in part due to social media. The result has been declining vaccination rates in this country and especially in Europe. The tragic impact has been rising measles cases and even deaths.

The solution is increasing vaccination rates. The vaccine is safe and effective. The disease is dangerous. The risk of serious neurological disease following vaccination is one in 365,000 – the risk of death with the disease is 1 – 2 in 1,000.

States are responding with new legislation designed to address the problem. But some aren’t responding enough. New York has recorded 600-plus cases alone out of 839 cases reported this year nationwide. This is more in New York alone than the number recorded nationwide in 2018.

Jason Riley, writing in The Wall Street Journal, says the cases have been concentrated in New York City and its suburbs, where pockets of Muslim, Christian and Orthodox Jewish families object to receiving the shots on religious grounds. Public health officials across the country are scrambling to raise awareness about the importance of inoculations, a task made more difficult by others spreading quackery on social media. On social media last week, a state legislator in Texas compared vaccines to “sorcery” and called them “dangerous.” Such a false claim by politicians for political purposes is both reckless and irresponsible. It highlights the need for new legislation to protect the safety of the public.

The problem is exemptions. There are far too many of them.  According to the National Conference of State legislature, all but three states – California, West Virginia and Mississippi – grant exemptions from school immunization requirements for “religious reasons.” And 16 states “allow philosophical exemptions for those who object to immunizations because of personal, moral or other beliefs.” Even medical exemptions need more scrutiny.

The issue is safety – plain and simple. When your actions increase the likelihood of danger for others in this country then you must be held accountable. Therefore, there must be no exemptions for religious grounds and no exemptions for medical grounds except when the patient is immunocompromised. If these rules were followed, those few unvaccinated individuals would be protected by “herd immunity.”

Parents who refuse to comply with vaccinations must have their children excluded from the schools and public places lest they present a danger to others and themselves. Reckless drivers have their licenses revoked for the safety of the public. Reckless parents should be treated likewise.