Vaccine misinformation flourishes on Facebook and Instagram weeks after promised crackdown

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Misinformation about vaccines continues to thrive on Facebook and Instagram weeks after the companies vowed to reduce its distribution on their platforms.

On March 7, amid news reports about the pervasiveness of vaccine misinformation on social media platforms, Facebook published a blog post that said it would work to “tackle” the problem on its platform and Instagram, which it owns, by limiting the dissemination of such content.

Facebook said at the time it would “reduce the ranking of groups and pages that spread misinformation about vaccines” by not including them in recommendations or in predictions when users type a search.

On Instagram, Facebook pledged to no longer “show or recommend content that contains misinformation about vaccinations on Instagram Explore or hashtag pages.”

But two weeks later, the issue still persists.

Facebook on Thursday morning continued to recommend content in the search bar that linked vaccinations with autism, a CNN Business review showed. When searching for “vaccines” using the search tool, results included “vaccines and autism” and “vaccines revealed.” When clicked, the suggestions in the drop-down menu returned results for Facebook pages that spread vaccine misinformation.

On Instagram, the problem was also still widespread, as first pointed out by The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz in a Thursday story about misinformation on the platform. Pages recommended when CNN Business searched for vaccines included accounts such as “VACCINES UNCOVERED,” “Vaccine Cautious Mom,” “Vaccines Exposed,” and others. When searching for hashtags, the top result was “#vaccineskill,” which had more than 17,000 posts. Others included “#vaccineinjury,” “#antivaccine,” and “#vaccinescauseautism.”

A spokesperson speaking on behalf of both Instagram and Facebook told CNN Business on Thursday afternoon that the process of curbing the dissemination of vaccine misinformation has always been scheduled to take place over several weeks. The spokesperson called the effort a “long-term commitment.”

In the short term, the spokesperson said Instagram would be blocking hashtags which contain health-related misinformation, such as “#vaccinescauseautism,” “#vaccinesarepoison,” and “#vaccinescausesids.”

A study published earlier this month in the journal Vaccine found that Facebook had become a “key disseminator” for websites that spread vaccine misinformation.

Health professionals have argued the spreading of vaccine misinformation is harmful because it can lead to people not getting vaccinated, leaving them open to contracting deadly diseases such as tetanus, polio, and measles.

By Oliver Darcy, CNN Business

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