Facebook is once again under fire over spreading misinformation about vaccine on its platform after Joe Biden said tech giants like Facebook are “killing people” for not tackling the problem.
The White House has also reset “disinformation dozen”: accounts that have been shown to be responsible for the majority of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms.
And while Facebook has defended itself, saying it has removed more than 18 million pieces of Covid misinformation, experts studying misinformation online say it has still largely been unable to solve the problem and that lies about the vaccine still reach millions of people.
“Facebook has repeatedly said it will act, but in reality we have seen a piecemeal enforcement of its own community standards, with some accounts being removed from Instagram but not Facebook and vice versa,” said Imran Ahmed, the center’s chief executive. for the Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), the organization behind the “disinformation dozen” survey cited by the White House. “There has been a systemic error in resolving this.”
The March report identified the 12 “superspreader” accounts. A Facebook spokesman said the company permanently bans pages, groups and accounts that “repeatedly violate our Covid misinformation rules”, including “more than a dozen pages, groups and accounts from these individuals”.
In the months since the study was released, CCDH confirmed that social platforms have taken action against members of the “dozen” and removed 35 accounts across social media. They have lost 41% of their followers – 5.8 million – but still have 8.4 million followers in total and 62 active accounts.
Misinformation experts have condemned platforms for taking down some of the most serious accounts, but not others. Eg. Anti-vaccine figurhead Robert F Kennedy Jr. still has an account on Facebook, despite being banned from Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
Alternative medicine doctor Joseph Mercola also remains on Facebook, where he has made a number of vaccine-skeptical posts in recent weeks, which were shared hundreds of times again by his 1.7 million. Followers. He has also used the platform to promote his anti-vaccination book The Truth About Covid-19.
Other studies have also shown that the scale of the problem is still large. Many positions erroneously suggest that the vaccine is not safe, not effective or not worth getting, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. A prevailing, unfounded conspiracy theory is that the vaccine implants users with a tracking microchip.
Experts say these posts are particularly prevalent on Spanish-language Facebook – an area of the platform that they say Facebook does not devote enough resources to moderating.
“Facebook needs a much better mechanism to stop the spread of false information about the vaccine, and they need to make sure they do so across languages,” said Jessica González, co-CEO of Free Press. a media capital group. She added that it is difficult to measure the extent of the problem when Facebook does not share numbers.
According to social media watchdog Accountable Tech11 out of the top 15 vaccine-related posts on Facebook last week contained disinformation or were antivaccine. Another leading post on Facebook about the Covid-19 vaccines last week was a deeply inaccurate anti-vaccine rant from right-wing Candace Owens, according to FWIW, a newsletter that tracks digital advertising spending.
And the first Facebook post across the country about the vaccine on Friday was Marjorie Taylor Greene, who called the removal of Covid disinformation “communism.” according to to Facebook’s internal analysis tool Crowdtangle.
Taylor Greene – who is not named among the top 12 disinformation spreaders but is often marked for sharing lies about Covid and other issues – was temporarily suspended from Twitter on Monday. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
The bite’s sharp condemnation comes as Covid-19 vaccine uptake is widespread in the United States, and new cases are on the rise again. The administration missed its July 4 target of 70% of Americans receiving at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine. As of July 8, only 67% of American adults had received a dose of the vaccine, while 58% were fully vaccinated.
Federal officials are increasingly blaming flagging vaccination rates and rising cases in the United States on social media platforms that have failed to police misinformation tied to vaccine hesitation. “An overall story is being shared that the vaccine is not effective,” Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, said recently. “Misinformation about health is a serious threat to public health.”
A Facebook spokesman pointed to the Guardian in a blog post written by Guy Rosen, the vice president of content policy, in which he claimed that users of the platform have shown increased vaccination acceptance in the last six months.
“The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the United States have been or want to be vaccinated against Covid-19,” he said. “President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4th. Facebook is not the reason why this goal was missed. ”
Spreading health misinformation is the latest obstacle for social media companies as they stare at potential antitrust action. On Sunday, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said steps should be taken to misinformation about the vaccine.
“Social media has greatly contributed to this misinformation – there is no doubt,” she said. “When we have a public health crisis and people die every day, enough is enough.”