Facebook could finally be curbing its spread of false information on the danger of vaccinations. A Sunday Times report says that the anti-vaxxer movement has grown exponentially on Facebook, putting millions of children across the globe at risk as overall immunity drops. According to the World Health Organisation, failure to vaccinate is now listed as a "top threat to global health" in 2019.
The report says although it didn’t say when this would happen, Facebook has said in a statement it is "exploring additional measures to combat the problem". It also said this could include "reducing or removing" anti-vaxxer content "from recommendations, including Groups You Should Join, and demoting it in search results, while also ensuring that higher quality and more authoritative information is available".
The report says this comes in the wake of a letter that was sent to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, as well as Google’s CEO, from a Democrat member in the US House of Representatives, Adam Schiff. Bloomberg reports that Schiff sent the letter expressing concern that "their platforms are carrying information discouraging parents from vaccinating their children".
This comes just days after an extensive report came out in South Africa detailing how the anti-vaxxer movement had spread its reach using social media. The report says Stellenbosch University’s Francois van Schalkwyk wanted to explore this for his PhD, and ultimately found that the main driver for many in the anti-vaxxer movement was simply a case of "trying to hold attention on social media".
"They are using whatever mechanism they can that will amplify their messages. That is precisely what someone like Donald Trump does too," he said. "He is not there to defend his position, but instead, to hold attention by using twitter to create hype and controversy using twitter. We see it happening in politics and finance. We see companies trying to knock the reputations of listed companies using social media – so it is not surprising that this is happening in science too."
Because "everything is connected and info is networked", and "because attention is the main driver", information gets circulated very quickly and is taken at face value.
"Social media not geared to being sceptical – and that is the opposite of science which is all about proof and that takes time," he explains in the report.
At the heart of the movement is a tiny core – just a handful of tweeters – who then put out a message which gets shared over and over again in an echo chamber of like-minded people who are attached to their views on vaccines.
[link url="https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/lifestyle/health-and-sex/2019-02-18-facebook-to-clamp-down-on-anti-vaxxer-content/"]Sunday Times report[/link]