Stopping misinformation about vaccines may not be as complicated as social media companies suggest it is. That’s because 12 of the best-known anti-vaccine activists are responsible for a disproportionate amount of vaccine misinformation on social media, a new report said.
The report, a joint effort by the Center to Combat Digital Hate (CCDH) and Anti-Vax Watch, found that 73 percent of vaccine misinformation on Facebook and 17 percent of vaccine misinformation on Twitter can be linked to the same 12 people . However, the reports, referred to as the “disinformation dozen” in the report, have largely avoided bans, though Facebook and Twitter have stepped up their efforts to curb misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines in recent months.
For example, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has long been one of the most famous anti-Vaxxers on social media, was banned from Instagram in February, but his Facebook and Twitter accounts remain online. Others mentioned in the report remain active on all three platforms. The report says that de-platforming these people and the organization they represent would “significantly reduce” the amount of vaccine disinformation on social media.
A Facebook spokesperson disputed the methodology of the report. “Working with leading health organizations, we’ve updated our policies to take action against accounts that violate our COVID-19 and vaccination rules – including reducing their spread or removing them from our platform – and we already have action against some of the groups taken in this report, “said Facebook spokesman Kevin McAlister in a statement. “With research showing that the best way to combat vaccine reluctance is to connect people to reliable information from health professionals, we’ve also connected over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities, including through our COVID-19 Information center. “
In a statement, a Twitter spokesperson said its COVID-19 misinformation policy applies to all users. “We will not take action on every case of misinformation,” said the spokesman, adding that Twitter is removing tweets that could cause “serious harm”. “Since we launched our COVID-19 guidelines last year, we’ve removed more than 22,400 tweets and challenged 11.7 million accounts worldwide.”
The report is under growing pressure for social media platforms to do more to curb vaccine misinformation. Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Sundar Pichai are due to appear at a congressional hearing on disinformation on Thursday. The CEOs are likely to ask questions about how to deal with misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic.