Covid vaccine: Facebook to ban anti-vaxx conspiracy theories

False claims that the vaccine contains microchips or is being tested on people without their consent will be removed

Adam Smith
Thursday 03 December 2020 14:38 GMT
Covid-19 vaccine: Who will get it, when and how?

Facebook is updating its policies around the coronavirus by removing false claims about upcoming vaccines.

The social media giant will be monitoring for misinformation that has been debunked by public health experts on both its main app and Instagram.

The new rules come as a coronavirus vaccine becomes more likely in the coming days after Wednesday's Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine announcement. However, a surge of disinformation on social media came as a result.

“This could include false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines. For example, we will remove false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips, or anything else that isn’t on the official vaccine ingredient list”, Facebook said in its announcement.

It added that it will also remove conspiracy theories about Covid-19 vaccines that we know today are false, such as that specific populations are being forced to test the vaccine against their will.

“Since it’s early and facts about COVID-19 vaccines will continue to evolve, we will regularly update the claims we remove based on guidance from public health authorities as they learn more”, Facebook added, but also said that it would “not be able to start enforcing these policies overnight.”

The Independent has reached out to Facebook for information about when it would be enforcing these policies.

Previously, Facebook removed Covid-19 misinformation that could contribute to “imminent physical harm”.

That included false claims or cures about the disease, that the coronavirus is caused by 5G, or that it does not exist.

FullFact, an independent fact-checking charity, has been working with Facebook to tackle disinformation.

Speaking on Wednesday, editor Tom Phillips told the PA news agency: "We have seen a lot of the internet platforms take stricter measures against vaccine misinformation and I think that is the correct approach. Could some of them go further? Yes, possibly”, editor Tom Phillips said.

"But at the same time, it is important to remember the importance of free speech. It's not illegitimate to have questions or worries about the vaccine and it's important that we don't just react by trying to suppress those questions. We allow people to ask the questions, get good quality answers and make up their minds based on good quality information."

Between March and October, Facebook and Instagram removed 12 million pieces of misinformation related to Covid-19.

In April alone, it put warning labels on about 50 million pieces of content, with 95% of people who saw the label not clicking past to view the content.

Between March and October, it put warning labels on 167 million pieces of content.

However, the effectiveness of Facebook’s labelling has been criticised. Labels placed on president Donald Trump’s factually inaccurate posts on Facebook reportedly did little to stop their spread, according to internal Facebook data. Mr Trump has also been called the biggest source of coronavirus misinformation by researchers at Cornell University.

“We have evidence that applying these informs to posts decreases their reshares by [approximately] 8 per cent,” the data scientists said.

“However given that Trump has SO many shares on any given post, the decrease is not going to change shares by orders of magnitude.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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