Facebook and Instagram join Pinterest in combating vaccine misinformation

5 Sep 2019

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In a similar move to Pinterest, Facebook will now direct users searching for content related to vaccination to information from the World Health Organization.

A week ago, Pinterest introduced a new feature in an attempt to curb the spread of misinformation related to vaccinations on its platform.

The company had previously stopped showing results for searches relating to vaccines to prevent users from encountering potentially harmful health misinformation.

But on 28 August, Pinterest took things a step further and updated its policy to counter the misinformation with advice and information from experts on the subject.

Facebook pop-ups

On Wednesday (4 September), Facebook announced similar plans. The company said that pop-up windows will appear on the platform when a user searches for content and terms related to vaccinations or taps a hashtag relating to vaccinations.

For users outside the US, this pop-up will ask if the user wants to be redirected to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website, where they can read reliable, up-to-date information on vaccines and access further materials. For US users, the pop-up will direct them to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With both of these pop-ups, Facebook will also provide users with the option to ‘see posts anyway’.

Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson for the CDC, said: “We know that parents often turn to social media to access health information and connect with other parents, and it can be difficult to determine what is accurate and who the credible sources of information are.”

Nordlund added that tackling vaccine myths and misinformation is a shared responsibility, and applauded Facebook’s efforts to minimise the damage caused by false information relating to health on the platform.

Since the beginning of this year, there have been more than 1,200 reported measles cases in the US, spread over 31 states.

Global health threat

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The World Health Organisation and Facebook have been in discussions for several months to ensure people will be able to access authoritative information on vaccines and reduce the spread of inaccuracies.

“Vaccine misinformation is a major threat to global health that could reverse decades of progress made in tackling preventable diseases. Many debilitating and deadly diseases can be effectively prevented by vaccines.

“Major digital organisations have a responsibility to their users to ensure that they can access facts about vaccines and health. It would be great to see social and search platforms come together to leverage their combined reach.”

An equivalent to Facebook’s pop-up will also appear Instagram, which implemented measures to hide hashtags returning false information about vaccines in May of this year. In March, Facebook also implemented a policy to lower the rank of accounts spreading misinformation about vaccines to reduce the impact of this content.

As the WHO director-general pointed out, social media may play a role in the decrease in vaccinations in recent years. However, doctors in the UK believe that this role is far less significant than the role played by major cuts to the NHS in recent years.

Dr Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology, told the Guardian: “Despite anti-vaccine rhetoric on social media being regularly cited in the media as leading to a drop in vaccine confidence, there is little evidence to bear this out for UK parents.

“Public Health England research shows that healthcare professionals remain the most trusted source of vaccine information for parents, with social media the least trusted. Rather than focusing our debate on the ills of social media, putting resources behind empowering healthcare professionals with information and the means to engage with parents who have questions around immunisation seems a sensible way to progress.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic