As Covid-19 vaccines start rolling out this month, Facebook has toughened its stance on vaccine misinformation about the coronavirus and will start to remove false claims from its platforms.
In a blog post Thursday, the social media giant said it will remove claims about the coronavirus vaccine that have been debunked by public health experts when they appear on Facebook and Instagram. That’s a change from the company’s previous approach to posts about vaccines in general, which saw technological methods used to try to suppress dubious information in users’ feeds rather than completely removing the material.
Misinformation about the vaccines “could lead to imminent physical harm,” Facebook health chief Kang-Xing Jin explained in a blog post. “This could include false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines. For example, we will remove false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips, or anything else that isn’t on the official vaccine ingredient list. We will also remove conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines that we know today are false: like specific populations are being used without their consent to test the vaccine’s safety.”
The stakes are high given Facebook’s mammoth user base of more than 2 billion people. Covid-19 infection rates are soaring, with another record set in the U.S. on Wednesday and about one death being recorded each minute of the day. Infectious disease experts have warned that at least two-thirds of the population will need to be vaccinated in order for it to be effective.
Three vaccines have so far reported high success rates in clinical trials, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet granted approval. FDA backing, which is expected, should see the first doses being administered by the end of this month. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading U.S. health official, has estimated that average Americans will start to be able to get the vaccine by next April.
Jin warned that Facebook “will not be able to start enforcing these policies overnight.” As new research and results related to the vaccines emerges, he said, it will be factored into Facebook’s policy of assessing posts on its platforms.