Vaccination against COVID-19 is on the rise, with social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter saying they have stepped up their fight against misinformation aimed at undermining trust in vaccines. But there are many problems.
For years, the same platforms have allowed the vaccine campaign to flourish, making it difficult to eliminate such sentiments. And their efforts to clear up other forms of COVID-19 misinformation, often through fact-checking, information-labeling, or other containment, have unfortunately slowed down.
For example, Twitter announced this month that it would eliminate dangerous vaccine fraud, just as it does other misinformation CO other conspiracy theories about COVID. But since April 2020, it has removed a total of 8,400 tweets spreading COVID-related misinformation. Critics say a small portion of the epidemic of snowmobile fraud, spread by millions of popular users, is spreading day by day.
“Although they can not take action, lives are lost,” said Imran Ahmed, of the Center for Countering Digital Hate. In December, the non-profit organization found that 59 million accounts on social platforms were behind anti-customs campaign sellers, many of whom were widespread disseminators of misinformation.
Vaccine misinformation efforts are now sparking censorship, prompting some posters to adopt cunning tactics to avoid the ax.
“It’s a difficult situation because we’ve been allowed to do so for so long,” said Virginia Inin Giddy, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, who studies social media and health information. “People who have been using social media for almost a decade have really been able to share what they want.”
The Associated Press has identified more than a dozen Facebook pages and Instagram accounts that collectively boast millions of followers who have made false claims about the COVID-19 vaccine or discouraged people from taking it. Some of these pages have been around for years.
Of the more than 15 pages analyzed by NewsGuard that analyze the reliability of websites, about half remain active on Facebook, according to the AP.
One such page, Tr The Cancer Truth, has more than a million Facebook followers, posting baseless suggestions for years that vaccines can cause autism or damage children’s brains. In November, the site was identified as a “super disseminator of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation” by NewsGuard.
Recently, the page stopped posting about vaccines և coronavirus. It now directs people to subscribe to its newsletter, visit its website as a way to avoid alleged “censorship”.
Facebook said it was “taking aggressive steps to combat misinformation in our programs by removing millions of COVID-19 pieces of vaccine content Facebook from Facebook and Instagram during the epidemic.”
“Research shows that one of the best ways to boost vaccine use is to provide people with accurate, reliable information, which is why we have connected 2 billion people to health care resources and launched a global information campaign,” the company said in a statement. ,
Facebook also banned vaccine-discouraged advertisements, saying that thanks to our fact-finding partners, it had added warning labels with more than 167 million pieces of additional COVID-19 content. (The Associated Press is one of Facebook’s fact-finding partners.)
YouTube, which despite being a source of misinformation, largely avoided the same kind of scrutiny as its social media counterparts, said it had removed more than 30,000 videos since October, when it began banning false claims about the COVID-19 vaccine. Since February 2020, it has removed more than 800,000 videos related to dangerous or misleading information about the coronavirus, said YouTube spokeswoman Elena Hernandez.
Before the epidemic, however, social media programs did little to eliminate misinformation, says Andy Pattison, the World Health Organization’s digital solutions manager. In 2019, when a measles outbreak severely criticized the Pacific Northwest and left dozens dead in American Samoa, Pattison asked major tech companies to look more closely at vaccine misinformation rules, which he feared could increase the epidemic. In vain.
Before COVID-19 retaliated, many of these tech companies began to listen. He now meets weekly with Facebook, Twitter և YouTube to discuss policy trends on their platforms.
“When it comes to vaccine misinformation, the really disappointing thing is that it has been around for years,” Pattison said.
Targets for such actions often adapt quickly. Some accounts use intentionally misspelled words, such as “vackseen” or “v @ x” – to avoid restrictions. (Social platforms say they are wise about that.) Other pages use more subtle messages, images or memes to suggest that the vaccines are harmless or even deadly.
“When you die after being vaccinated, you die for everything but the vaccine,” one meme read on an Instagram page with more than 65,000 followers. The post suggested the government was hiding deaths from COVID-19 vaccines.
“It’s a very good line between freedom of speech and the destruction of science,” Pattison said. The misinformers say, “Learn the rules; they are constantly dancing to the edge.”
Twitter said it was constantly reviewing its rules in the context of COVID-19, amending them based on expert advice. Earlier this month, it stepped up its strike policy, threatening to duplicate coronavirus և vaccine misinformation with restrictions.
But the blatantly false information of COVID-19 continues to appear. Several articles circulating online earlier this month claimed that more Israelis who received the Pfizer vaccine were “killed” by gunfire than those who died from COVID-19. One such article from the vaccination site has been circulated on Facebook about 12,000 times, reaching nearly 40,000 references to social order պատվ “vaccine death” earlier this month, according to an analysis by media intelligence company Zignal Labs. ,
Medical experts point to a real-world study showing a strong correlation between the decline in vaccines և COVID-19 in Israel. The country’s health ministry said in a statement on Thursday that the COVID-19 vaccine had “profoundly” reduced mortality and hospitalizations.
As US vaccine stockpiles continue to grow, immunization efforts will soon shift from targeting limited supplies to the most vulnerable population to shooting as many shots as possible. That means overcoming a third of the country’s population who say they will not or probably will not, as measured by a February AP-NORC poll.
“Vaccine ambiguity and misinformation can be a major obstacle to getting enough vaccinated people to end the crisis,” said Lisa Fazio, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University.
Some health officials and academics generally believe that the efforts of the social platform are useful, at least in the margins. It is unclear to what extent they can aggravate the problem.
“If anyone really believes that the COVID vaccine is harmful, they feel a responsibility to share it with friends and family, and they will find a way,” said Giddy.
And some still blame business models who they say have encouraged platforms to serve attractive, if false, coronavirus misinformation to profit from advertising.
When the Center for the Fight against Digital Hate recently explored the intersection of different types of misinformation and hate speech, it found that Instagram tends to cross-reference misinformation through its algorithm. Instagram can feed an account that followed the QAnon conspiracy site, with further posts from, say, white nationalists or antioxidants.
“You continue to allow things to fall apart because of the constant misinformation and information on your computer,” said Ahmed, the center’s executive director.