Facebook ramps up effort to curb COVID-19 vaccines misinfo

Facebook on Monday said it is ramping up efforts to stem the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 , spread facts, and figure out who might be wary of getting the jab. The move includes banning groups which repeatedly spread misinformation and debunked claims about the virus and vaccines in general. Facebook has been highlighting health advice from reliable agencies and removing COVID-19 misinformation for months and on Monday expanded that initiative.

Facebook also says that it is consulting with health organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), to expand the list of false claims that it will remove to include additional debunked claims about the coronavirus and vaccines.

Facebook wrote in the blog post:

“Today, following consultations with leading health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), we are expanding the list of false claims we will remove to include additional debunked claims about the coronavirus and vaccines.

This includes claims such as:

  • COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured
  • Vaccines are not effective at preventing the disease they are meant to protect against
  • It’s safer to get the disease than to get the vaccine
  • Vaccines are toxic, dangerous or cause autism”

In another blog, Facebook says that it has “connected over 2 billion people from 189 countries to reliable information about the coronavirus through our COVID-19 Information Center and informational messages, and we’ve removed more than 12 million pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram containing misinformation that could lead to imminent physical harm.”

Facebook goes on to add that it has “partnered with governments in more than 120 countries, as well as multilateral organisations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, to deliver timely information about COVID-19, including through helplines on WhatsApp.”

However, critics of the social media giant’s handling of misinformation were not convinced by its latest move.

“Facebook has been promising to crack down on COVID and anti-vaxx misinformation for the past year,” the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate said in a message fired off on Twitter.

Groups or accounts that share vaccine misinformation may be removed completely from the social network, warned Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen.

Facebook prominently hosts a COVID-19 information center, and makes a priority of featuring reliable sources in results for queries on the topic.

People in charge of groups at the social network were told to require posts of members prone to spreading bogus information about vaccines or the pandemic to be approved before being shared.

At Facebook-owned Instagram, accounts of people discouraging vaccinations will be harder to find using automated search tools, according to the social network.

Facebook said that it has gotten more than 50 million responses to a COVID-19 survey it launched last year in a collaboration with two US universities.

It was designed to gather insights from people about COVID-19 symptoms, mask wearing, and access to care.

“The survey program is one of the largest ever conducted and has helped health researchers better monitor and forecast the spread of Covid-19,” Facebook said.

“The survey data will provide a better understanding of  trends in vaccine intent across sociodemographics, race, geography and more.”

Survey findings about vaccine attitudes will be shared globally, according to the social network.

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