Written by Mike Isaac
Facebook on Thursday said it would remove posts that contain claims about COVID-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts, as the social network acts more aggressively to bat down coronavirus misinformation while falsehoods run rampant.
The move goes a step beyond how Facebook had handled misinformation about other kinds of vaccines. The company had previously made it more difficult to find vaccine misinformation that was not related to the coronavirus by “downranking” it, essentially making it less visible in people’s news feeds.
But Facebook said it planned to take down COVID-19 vaccine falsehoods entirely if the claims had been discredited or contradicted by health groups including the World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is another way that we are applying our policy to remove misinformation about the virus that could lead to imminent physical harm,” the company said in a blog post. “This could include false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines.”
Facebook added that it would also take down “false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips, or anything else that isn’t on the official vaccine ingredient list.”
The social network has long been hesitant to wade into the fraught space of determining what is true or false information on its platform. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, has made it clear he “does not want to be the arbiter of truth” of what is posted on the site.
But Zuckerberg has also taken an active role in combating the spread of coronavirus misinformation. Facebook has created new products and tools to inform the public about the potential dangers of the virus. Zuckerberg emailed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infection disease expert, as early as March to offer his help in fighting the virus. Fauci has since appeared on multiple live-streamed interviews on Facebook with Zuckerberg.
Because of the novelty of COVID-19 vaccines, not all false claims may be taken down immediately, Facebook said. The social network said it also plans to continue sending people to its COVID-19 Information Center, which contains verified and up-to-date information about the virus.
Facebook’s decision to remove vaccine-related misinformation is not without precedent. The company previously removed misinformation about the polio vaccine in Pakistan, as well as misinformation on the measles vaccine in Samoa during outbreaks of the illnesses.
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