HEALTH

Facebook to target vaccine misinformation in pages, groups, ads

Mar 7, 2019, 1:25 PM

(CNN) — Facebook, the world’s largest social media site, will soon take aim against anti-vaxxers. The company will start by lowering the ranking of groups and pages that spread misinformation about vaccinations in its News Feed and Search options, a representative said Wednesday.

“These Groups and Pages will not be included in recommendations or in predictions when you type into Search,” Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, said in a statement. She added that when ads that include misinformation about vaccinations are found, “we will reject them.” Ad accounts that continue to violate company policies may even be disabled.

Facebook won’t be disabling personal accounts that post misinformation about vaccines, a spokeswoman told CNN on background. General misinformation doesn’t violate the company’s community standards. If something blatantly violates the standards, it will be removed, but that will not happen to individual posts containing misinformation.

Bickert said the company is also “exploring ways to share educational information about vaccines,” possibly by adding educational information to inaccurate posts.

The effort is company-wide and will be unrolled in the next few weeks.

About half of US teens use the social media site, and the number of American users 65 and older has doubled to 41% since 2012, according to Hootsuite, a social media management platform.

The Explore and hashtag pages of Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, also will not show or recommend content that contains anti-vaccination messages, Bickert said, explaining the details with a simple example.

If verified vaccine hoaxes — identified by World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — appear on Facebook, the company will take action, she said: “For example, if a group or Page admin posts this vaccine misinformation, we will exclude the entire group or Page from recommendations, reduce these groups and Pages’ distribution in News Feed and Search, and reject ads with this misinformation.”

A page labeled “Your ad preferences” reveals how the social media site categorizes the interests of each user, a recent Pew Research Center survey noted. However, most survey participants (74%) reported not knowing that a list of their traits and interests existed within the company’s data. And once directed to their “ad preferences” page, half said they are not comfortable with the company creating such a list.

Art Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University School of Medicine, has said he would welcome changes but said it may be necessary for Facebook to pull “scurrilous and erroneous sites down completely.”

Others believe Facebook is striking the right balance. “They’re avoiding censorship, but they’re not necessarily recommending it to their readers, and that’s probably the best way to go about it,” Lata Nott, executive director of the First Amendment Center at the nonpartisan Freedom Forum Institute, said late last month when the social media giant was working on the changes.

Last year, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority banned a Facebook ad paid for by a US-based anti-vaccination campaign group. The company did not say whether it is taking these new steps to avoid similarly arousing the ire of US regulatory authorities.

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Facebook to target vaccine misinformation in pages, groups, ads