It's now been two months since Facebook promised to take action to limit the spread of disinformation about vaccines. Two months later, anti-vaccination posts and a #vaccineskill tag still appear prominently all over Facebook-owned Instagram.
Kaya Yurieff at CNN reports that "Two months after Facebook pledged to fight vaccine misinformation on its platforms, and in the midst of a measles outbreak in New York City," Instagram is still serving up plenty of posts from anti-vaccination accounts (some of which may be from Russia), plus anti-vaccination hashtags, when you search for "vaccines."
An Instagram spokesperson added that its efforts are focused on vaccine misinformation, not the anti-vax movement. This means that Instagram wants to curtail false information about vaccines, but not ban people who identify as anti-vaxers or publish anti-vaccine posts.
Karina Newton, Instagram's global head of public policy, said the company has blocked what she called hashtags with "straight up" vaccine misinformation, such as #VaccinesCauseAIDS. The company said it's focused on removing "publicly identified verifiable vaccine hoaxes" identified by groups like the World Health Organization, such as #VaccinesCauseAIDs.
But a review by CNN Business found that the hashtag #VaccinesKill was still up on the site and was a top result after anti-vax accounts. Posts with the hashtag were a mix of misinformation and content mocking anti-vaxers, though more than half of the top nine posts under the hashtag on Wednesday, were anti-vax.
Asked by CNN Business why #VaccinesKill was acceptable when #VaccinesCauseAIDS was not, an Instagram spokesperson said there isn't an officially debunked claim that vaccines kill.
"Vaccines are extremely safe. Serious adverse reactions are very, very rare. It's very unfortunate that there would be such a hashtag because it's going to scare people," said Daniel Salmon, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety. "If you scare people, less people will get vaccinated and you'll have outbreaks of things like measles which can kill children."
Scientists have repeatedly and consistently debunked the most common anti-vax myth, the idea that there is a link between vaccinations and the development of autism in children. Reputable organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics say that vaccination for children is crucial to public health.
Reporters at Tuesday's event asked Instagram executives why search results for "vaccine" under the mobile app's "Top" tab yielded results like the anti-vax "Christians Against Vaccines" and "Vaccinetruth."
"It's an area we're iterating on right now," said Yoav Shapira, engineering manager of Instagram's "well-being" team, at Tuesday's presentation.
Good to know.