Anti-vaccination campaign groups have, in recent years, been very vocal when it comes to promoting their ideas online. Facebook, in particular, has been regularly used by groups to circulate anti-vaccine messages to the public.
However, in light of recent outbreaks of diseases like measles, and other infectious illnesses, Facebook has announced it’s looking into putting restrictions on what is allowed to be posted on the topic.
Groups are frequently allowed to share and post information encouraging the public not to get themselves or their children vaccinated due to safety risks. In 2017, we saw the highest number of reported measles cases in over ten years.
Last week, Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee wrote, in public letters to Facebook and Google CEO’s, expressing concerns about how misinformation is able to be spread among the public about the “risks” of vaccination.
He wrote: “Facebook and Instagram are surfacing and recommending messages that discourage parents from vaccinating their children, a direct threat to public health, and reversing progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.”
“There is no evidence to suggest that vaccines cause life-threatening or disabling diseases, and the dissemination of unfounded and debunked theories about the dangers of vaccinations pose a great risk to public health.”
He continued to question whether posting unproven medical information on social media is allowed in the terms and conditions of the site. In addition to this, he asked whether Facebook allows these groups to use paid ads to promote their message online.
Although there have been some concerns raised about the possibility of censoring content – mostly over free speech – experts warn that there has to be a limit when it comes to health information. By posting misleading information about the safety of vaccines, sites could be putting the public at risk.
According to a statement from Facebook: “We’ve taken steps to reduce the distribution of health-related misinformation on Facebook, but we know we have more to do. We’re currently working with outside experts on additional changes that we’ll be announcing soon”.
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