Facebook is cracking down on the spread of vaccine misinformation, the company announced Thursday. The changes come as tech giants are facing criticism for their role in disseminating false medical information in the wake of a massive measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest in January.
Facebook will now de-prioritize medical myths across the platform, taking action against verifiable vaccine hoaxes, the company said. Misinformation will now appear less frequently in News Feeds, both public and private pages and groups, search predictions and recommendations, according to Facebook.
"We are working to tackle vaccine misinformation on Facebook by reducing its distribution and providing people with authoritative information on the topic," Monika Bickert, VP, Global Policy Management, said in a statement.
Facebook also says it will start rejecting ads that include vaccine misinformation and disable ad accounts that violate its policies. "Leading global health organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have publicly identified verifiable vaccine hoaxes. If these vaccine hoaxes appear on Facebook, we will take action against them," Bickert said.
Facebook will also share education information about vaccines to people who have uncovered misinformation. "We also believe in providing people with additional context so they can decide whether to read, share, or engage in conversations about information they see on Facebook," Bickert said. "We are exploring ways to give people more accurate information from expert organizations about vaccines at the top of results for related searches, on Pages discussing the topic, and on invitations to join groups about the topic."
The announcement wasn't limited to Facebook alone. Content containing misinformation about vaccines will no longer show up on Instagram Explore of hashtag pages, which help users find information about a specific topic.
Anti-vaccination pages are rampant on Facebook, including pages like "Stop Mandatory Vaccination" and "The Truth About Vaccines Docu-Series," which both have over 100,000 followers. Earlier this month, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, sent a letter to Google and Facebook on the spread of anti-vaccination messaging online. Schiff said he is "deeply concerned about declining vaccination rates" and asked for additional steps "to address this growing problem."
Facebook is following in the footsteps of other social media platforms attempting to combat anti-vaxxers. Pinterest has blocked anti-vaccination searches and has tried to pull down anti-vax content. In February, YouTube said it would remove ads from videos that feature anti-vaccination content.
Approximately 100,000 children in the U.S. have not been vaccinated against any of the 14 diseases for which shots are recommended. The anti-vaccination movement made the list of the World Health Organization's top threats to global health in 2019. The organization said some people's reluctance or refusal to vaccinate their children threatens to reverse progress made against several preventable diseases.
High school senior Ethan Lindenberger testified before a Senate committee Tuesday about his decision to defy his mom and get vaccinated. "To combat preventable disease outbreaks, information is in my mind the forefront of this matter," he said.
One of the largest studies ever done on the alleged potential dangers of vaccines was published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It looked at all of the children born in Denmark over more than a decade — more than 657,000 children — and found no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.