How Facebook Plans To Take On Anti-Vaccine Misinformation

By Staff Reporter - 25 Mar '19 21:20PM

The BBC reports that the volume of children not being vaccinated since 2001 has quadrupled in number raising concerns from all quarters about the rising anti-vaccination movement. Social media plays a significant part in the spread of information, but as Brookings notes, it can be difficult to pin down the effect of misinformation since it tends to mix in with the legitimate information that a user shares. People tend to trust their friends and relatives on social media and because of that give more thought to the media shared by those people. However, there is no organization that fact-checks these posts for accuracy, meaning that what may look and sound like news could be completely fake. Facebook has been leaning towards dealing with so-called 'fake news' ever since the 2016 election and the latest target in its sights is the anti-vaccination movement.

Dealing with the Threat of Anti Vaccination

Vice President for Global Policy Management of Facebook Monika Bickert mentioned in a post hosted on Facebook's blog that the company intends to directly tackle the misinformation spread by anti-vaccination groups in many ways. Among the steps that the company wants to take include demonetizing ad accounts that promote anti-vaccination advertisements and delisting anti-vaccination groups from the search bar. The aim is to limit the misinformation and access to groups that propagate this misinformation across the social media giant's platform. When it comes to the spread of misinformation, NBC has noted that lies spread a lot faster than the truth on social media. In some cases, this can be a minor inconvenience, but the anti-vaccination movement has caused serious public health problems.

A Disaster in the Making

Anti-vaccination rhetoric is directly responsible for a recent outbreak of measles in Washington State. The Washington State Department of Health confirmed at least seventy-two (72) cases of measles in the state, a staggering number based on how close to eradication contemporary science considered the diseases to be. The growing trend of shirking the responsibility of vaccination has led to a large volume of the population being unprotected against diseases that were all but unheard of in the developed world. Facebook, noticing the tendency of misinformation to spread have decided to take a serious look at anti-vaccination posts, after previously stating that anti-vaccination rhetoric did not directly violate their terms of service, Bloomberg reports.

A Threat to Free Speech Or a Responsibility to the Public?

In the past, Facebook has been accused of censoring conservative commentators and have been charged with supporting and promoting partisan politics in the posts they have censored. Gizmodo states that former Facebook workers have admitted to suppressing conservative news while working at the social media company. While in some circles this may be argued as the infringement of an individual's freedom of speech, the same could be said of anti-vaccination rhetoric. However, in the wake of the measles outbreak in Washington state, leading to the increase of sales of scrubs, and further outbreaks of diseases in other populated areas, the anti-vaccination movement has come under scrutiny for spreading patently false information, misinformation that could directly lead to the loss of life. As it stands, the company has decided that it can no longer allow the spread of this misinformation because of the danger it poses to the general public.

Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes

More and more people rely on social media to provide news for them, and this may be a problem when shares contain blatant misinformation. Facebook is trying to make misinformation a thing of the past on their platform, but it faces a real moral dilemma when it starts censoring content. It's the age-old question when it comes to the censorship of speech - where is enough and how much restriction is too much? While the halt of anti-vaccination posts is a necessity to roll back the wave of outbreaks in some states, it needs to be tempered with moral direction, lest the precedent be used for more nefarious purposes in the future.

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