Warner presses Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on COVID-19 vaccine misinformation
U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) is pressing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the continued proliferation of anti-vaccine content on the company’s platforms, particularly Instagram.
In a letter, Sen. Warner wrote, “Anti-vaccination groups and other health conspiracy groups have long utilized – and been enabled by – Facebook’s platforms to disseminate misinformation. Studies show a rapid increase in the spread of health misinformation online since the start of the pandemic. Yet on the very day that Facebook introduced its updated standards touted to address health misinformation media organizations noted that several of the top-ranked search results for ‘covid vaccine’ on Instagram were anti-vaccine accounts. I am deeply concerned that Facebook’s new policies will continue to lack the adequate enforcement needed to reduce the spread of harmful misinformation on its platforms.”
In the correspondence, Warner noted the importance of promoting accurate information about vaccine safety, with the CDC recently finding that nearly a third of U.S. adults surveyed reported they did not intend to get vaccinated, despite the proven safety and effectiveness of multiple COVID-19 vaccines.
“Facebook has previously committed to reducing the spread of misinformation on its platforms, implementing a ban on false claims about vaccines in groups, pages, and ads in April 2020 and promising to remove COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation from the platform in an effort to promote authoritative health information in February 2021,” Warner explained. “However, despite these promises, Facebook’s enforcement of its own policies is consistently and demonstrably insufficient, a trend we have seen in other areas where Facebook has pledged to address misuse of its products or instances of its products amplifying harmful content.”
A recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that Instagram’s algorithm promoted unsolicited content that featured anti-vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation to users across several features of the platform, including in the “Suggested Posts” section, which was introduced in August 2020 and directs users to recommended posts from accounts they do not follow based on users’ engagement with related posts.
“The events of January 6th prove that there are real-world consequences when harmful misinformation is allowed to run rampant online, and I am concerned that Instagram – a platform which has generally escaped the level of scrutiny directed at Facebook, itself – is similarly enabling the spread of harmful misinformation that could hinder COVID-19 mitigation efforts and, ultimately, result in lives lost,” Warner wrote.
In the letter, Warner pressed Zuckerberg to respond to a series of questions about the platform’s policies and procedures for dealing with health misinformation, and requested that the CEO produce the company’s internal research into Instagram’s amplification of anti-vaccine content, groups, pages, and verified figures by April 23.