Facebook is moving more aggressively to combat vaccine misinformation, taking down debunked claims on Facebook and Instagram including that vaccines cause autism or that it is safer for people to get COVID-19 than to receive the immunization.
Facebook also warned that groups, pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that repeatedly share these falsehoods may be removed.
Administrators of groups that have administrators or members who have violated COVID-19 policies may also be required to temporarily approve all posts.
The new policy is a departure for Facebook. Last fall, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company would not target anti-vaccination posts the same way it has cracked down on COVID misinformation.
"We will begin enforcing this policy immediately, with a particular focus on Pages, groups and accounts that violate these rules, and we’ll continue to expand our enforcement over the coming weeks," Facebook's head of health Kang-Xing Jin said in a blog post.
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False claims about vaccines have circulated on social media platforms for years, giving rise to a powerful anti-vaxxer movement with deep roots and a long reach.
Misleading or false claims about vaccines used to get different treatment. Before Facebook said it would downplay that content in people’s News Feeds so that it would be harder to find it.
Researchers call the spread of COVID vaccine misinformation a second pandemic and warn it poses a grave public health threat.
They say the riptide of misinformation is undercutting public trust in the immunizations.
Most alarming are false claims deterring communities of color already wary of the vaccine and distrustful of the medical establishment over past mistreatment. Anti-vaccine activists including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. falsely linked the death of legendary home-run hitter Hank Aaron in January at 86 to the coronavirus vaccine he received 17 days earlier.
In October, Facebook banned users from buying advertising that included false or misleading information about vaccines. Two months later, Facebook said it would take down posts with claims that had been debunked by the World Health Organization or government agencies.
CNN reported Monday that four of the top 10 search results for "vaccine" on Instagram were for anti-vaccination accounts, including "vaccinetruth," "vaccinefreedom," "antivaxxknowthefacts," and "cv19vaccinereactions."
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Facebook says it draws a distinction between vaccine misinformation which violates its rules and posts that spread general anti-vaccine sentiment which does not.
Also on Monday, Facebook said it will steer people to where and when they can get vaccinated, much like the campaign to help people find information about how to vote during the election.
It is also giving $120 million in ad credits to help health ministries, nonprofit organizations and UN agencies reach billions of people with COVID-19 vaccine and preventive health information.
"In 2021 we’re focused on supporting health leaders and public officials in their work to vaccinate billions of people against COVID-19," Facebook's Ji said. "Building trust and confidence in these vaccines is critical, so we’re launching the largest worldwide campaign to help public health organizations share accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines and encourage people to get vaccinated as vaccines become available to them."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Facebook cracks down on more coronavirus and vaccine lies