Social media giant Facebook has announced a new policy on how it will handle posts and pages that spread misinformation about vaccines and vaccinations. It is a growing problem particularly in the West, where parents are choosing to avoid once-routine vaccinations for their children because of fears stoked by unreliable and unscientific sources.
Yet it’s also a concern in the developing world, where “vaccine hesitancy,” defined as the reluctance or refusal to choose vaccination even when it’s available, arises from a range of cultural and communication factors.
The problem was named by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Top 10 threat to global health for 2019, and Facebook is starting with vaccine-related hoaxes that have been identified by WHO and other leading global health organizations.
“If these vaccine hoaxes appear on Facebook, we will take action against them,” said Monicka Bickert, the company’s vice president for global policy management. That means that groups and pages that share the misinformation will be reduced in news feed rankings, and they won’t be recommended when a search is typed into Facebook.
“When we find ads that include misinformation about vaccinations, we will reject them,” Bickert said in her statement. “For ad accounts that continue to violate our policies, we may take further action, such as disabling the ad account.”
Facebook says it wants to offer users “additional context” so they can decide whether to read, share, or participate in conversations about vaccines. “We are exploring ways to give people more accurate information from expert organizations about vaccines at the top of results for related searches, on pages discussing the topic, and on invitations to join groups about the topic,” the company said.
That’s been a priority for WHO, which put together a program called “Vaccine Safety Net” to ensure access to quality information about vaccination. The link to the website is available here.
Image: UNICEF DRC file