Social media companies battle outbreak of false anti-vax claims



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"Doctors do not command the kind of authority they have done for decades. There is a lack of trust in the institutions people believed in."

A health worker at the World Health Organization prepares to give a vaccine against Ebola.

A health worker at the World Health Organization prepares to give a vaccine against Ebola.Credit:AP

The effort to filter out false information about vaccines online is another front in the battle for social media to deal with fake news of all kinds, including political propaganda. (Researchers have even found bots linked to Russia trying to sow discord by amplifying both sides of the vaccine debate.)

Pinterest, the digital scrapbook and search site that has been one of the leading online repositories of vaccine misinformation, has taken the seemingly drastic 2017 step of blocking all searches for the term "vaccines."

But it has been a stale quarantine.

Recently, a "measles vaccine" survey still included, among other things, a post titled "Why Did We Say NO to the Measles Vaccine," along with a sinister illustration of a hand holding a huge needle called "Vaccine Nation" ". : poison the population one shot at a time. "

A pedestrian passes the entrance to Facebook.

A pedestrian passes the entrance to Facebook.Credit:Bloomberg

Facebook, in turn, said in March that it would not recommend more groups and pages that spread rumors about vaccines, and that it would reject ads that do so. This appears to have leaked some of the more blatant sources of vaccine misinformation, such as Naturalnews.com.

But even after the changes, anti-vax groups were among the first results to appear in a survey on "vaccine safety." A "vaccine" research, in turn, reveals the verified profile of Dr. Christiane Northrup, a physician who is frank in her doubts about – and sometimes opposition to – vaccines.

In Facebook Instagram, hashtags like "vaccineskill" and counts against the vaccination of children are easily found with a simple search for "vaccines".

Discredited ideas circulating online include the belief that the recommended number of injections for babies is too much for their bodies, that vaccines infect people with the same virus they are trying to avoid, or that the natural immunity conferred by the disease is better than vaccines.

Pinterest took the extreme step of banning research on vaccines to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Pinterest took the extreme step of banning research on vaccines to prevent the spread of misinformation.Credit:Pinterest

In fact, the fear and suspicion of vaccines exist since the vaccines exist. Smallpox inoculations caused furore in colonial New England in the 1700s. And anti-vaccine agitation existed online long before Facebook and Twitter.

Even so, online misinformation experts say that social networks and the way their algorithms spread the more "engaging" posts-true or not-fueled the spread of anti-vaccination propaganda and pushed parents into the anti-vax field .

Jeanine Guidry, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies social media and vaccines, said that social media amplify these conversations and create echo chambers that can reinforce bad information.

Carpiano said it is difficult to document the actual effect that social media has had on vaccination rates, but "we see a decrease in coverage and an increase in coverage gaps," as well as vaccinated and hesitant groups of people.

Despite high-profile outbreaks, overall vaccination rates remain high in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the percentage of children under the age of two who have not received any vaccine is growing.

Some of the fake online health and medicine news seem to be released by people who truly believe in it. Some seem destined to wreak havoc on public discourse. And some seem to be for financial gain.

InfoWars, the conspiracy site run by right-wing provocateur Alex Jones, routinely pushes anti-vax information and stories of "forced inoculations" while selling what is advertised as immune supplements. Naturalnews.com also sells these products.

"It's a disinformation campaign," Carpiano said. "Often expressed in" Oh, we are by choice, understanding, education ", he said. "But fundamentally it is not open to scientific debate."

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