On late Tuesday, October 14, Facebook announced that they would finally begin banning advertisements that encourage people to stop getting vaccines. This goes a step further than their previous policy — which was that they would only reject ads that had vaccine hoaxes in them if they were publicly identified by global health organizations. Going forward, the company will ban any ad that explicitly discourages someone from getting a vaccine.
The newest announcement is part of a series of announcements from the company, including a recent ban on content that denies the Holocaust happened, a ban on QAnon pages and groups that led to a massive purge last week, and a ban on political ads after November 3rd, when the presidential election takes place. Last month, they also decided to stop groups that give other Facebook users health advice, as these groups can become dangerous vectors for disinformation and can lead people to believe things that aren’t true about the medical community or medicine in general.
Weirdly enough, despite this move, they are still trying to walk a line, it seems, based on the blog post that came out announcing their new vaccine policy. For example, they still will refuse to ban ads that might advocate against government vaccine policies, like one launched in August, in which a Virginia politician said, “STOP FORCED CORONAVIRUS VACCINATIONS!” That ad wouldn’t violate their policy per se. In fact, it would only violate the policy if it said that the vaccine was unsafe, dangerous, ineffective, could cause adverse health effects or other major markers of anti-vaccine misinformation that fuels the anti-medical community movement.
While this is a welcome step in the right direction, it’s worth wondering like, if their other recent steps to stop political ads, QAnon, Holocaust denial, and other major, and harmful, misinformation campaigns, is a case of too little, too late. After all, in just February of this year, one Facebook group, “Stop Mandatory Vaccination,” might have been responsible for the death of a 4-year-old boy from Colorado who died from the flu, whose mother did not vaccinate him or any of his siblings from the potentially deadly virus.
That group had 139,000 Facebook members and was one of only a few of the largest misinformation groups on the platform. It’s clear that the misinformation campaign against vaccines has not only been prevalent, and everywhere, for a very long time, but that the damage for so many hundreds of thousands of people might have already been done. And that’s just about vaccines: there have been allegations that misinformation about the Rohingya people in Myanmar that proliferated on Facebook at the time of genocide against the Rohingya people, and this was only in 2018. Still, it’s good that they’re taking action, even if irreparable harm has already been done.