Pinterest blocks vaccine-related searches to battle misinformation

21 Feb 2019

Pinterest homepage. Image: sharafmaksumov/Depositphotos 

Image-sharing social platform Pinterest has stopped showing search results related to vaccines in an effort to curb misinformation.

Pinterest, a popular image-sharing social network, is taking a strict stance on content around anti-vaxxer content, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

The spread of misinformation about vaccinations online is a growing issue, with the World Health Organization citing reluctance to vaccinate as one of the top 10 risks to global health in 2019.

Earlier in February, experts highlighted the proliferation of anti-vaxxer claims within private groups on Facebook. Some of these private groups have tens of thousands of members. Other social media firms such as YouTube have also been criticised for allowing anti-vaxxer content to proliferate.

Pinterest takes tough stance

Earlier this week, it was reported that Pinterest conducted a review of vaccine-related content on the platform and found that the bulk of it consisted of warnings about the dangers of vaccines, despite general scientific consensus saying otherwise. The company has now taken the step of not returning results for the vaccination category at all.

Ifeoma Ozoma, manager of public policy and social impact at Pinterest, said that it was “better not to serve those results than to lead people down what is like a recommendation rabbit hole”.

According to Gizmodo, searches for ‘vaccination’ and ‘anti-vaccination’ returned no results, but some other key words surfaced some content. The company has said it is difficult to remove this content in its entirety, but the ban is in place until a more permanent plan can be implemented.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We want Pinterest to be an inspiring place for people, and there’s nothing inspiring about misinformation. That’s why we continue to work on new ways of keeping misleading content off our platform and out of our recommendations engine.”

Examining unwanted content

As well as content around vaccines, the company has taken steps to block posts promoting false cures for cancer as part of a broader plan to deal with health-related misinformation that has been in place since 2017. The company calls such content “polluted”.

According to The Guardian, Pinterest also includes health misinformation content in its “hash bank”, which prevents users from repinning anti-vaxxer content that has been reported on another part of its platform. Pinning from certain websites has also been banned entirely.

Facebook recently told Bloomberg that it is exploring ways to remove anti-vaccine information from its platform. Congressman Adam Schiff contacted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google head Sundar Pichai imploring them to address the issue.

Facebook said solutions may include “reducing or removing this type of content from recommendations, including Groups You Should Join, and demoting it in search results, while also ensuring that higher-quality and more authoritative information is available”. Google is said to be looking into similar measures.

Pinterest homepage. Image: sharafmaksumov/Depositphotos 

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects