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Facebook Is Finally Cracking Down on Anti-Vax Misinformation

It's taking a series of steps designed to make it harder for anti-vax content to spread across the platform.

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Facebook is home to some of — if not the — most active anti-vax communities on the internet. But now, following in the footsteps of YouTube, Amazon, and Pinterest, the social media giant announced a plan to limit the spread of anti-vaccine misinformation on its platform.

According to the New York Times, the company is planning to use artificial intelligence to flag content that potentially contains specific claims about vaccines that have been disproven by “leading global health organizations” like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control. An employee will review those flags and make the final designation.

In a statement, the company said it would make vaccine misinformation much harder to find by reducing the ranking of groups and pages that spread debunked claims. They won’t be included in recommendations or predictions that pop up when users type in the search bar.

Similar changes will come to explore and hashtag pages on Facebook-owned Instagram.

Facebook is also promising to reject all ads with misleading information about vaccinations and eliminating the ability for advertisers to target certain terms (e.g. “vaccine controversies”) that are commonly used to reach vaccine-skeptical parents.

The move comes weeks after the World Health Organization cited “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top ten threats to public health in 2019. Facebook has also faced pressure from Congress to act.

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Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg last month asking the company what steps it was taking to address the issue.

On the other side of the Hill, Ethan Lindenberger, the son of an anti-vaxxer, cited Facebook as his mother’s principal source of vaccine misinformation in testimony to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

There’s also the sheer number of measles outbreaks happening across the country, particularly in states with lax vaccine laws. It’s gotten to the point where even the small government-loving commissioner of the FDA is talking about action at the federal level.

These first actions are is pretty limited, focusing as they do only on certain claims and downranking instead of removing, but the company also said it’s looking into ways to provide users with accurate information about vaccines.