Facebook cracks down on more lies about COVID and vaccines but is it enough to combat anti-vaccination activists?

Facebook says it will expand efforts to remove debunked claims on Facebook and Instagram about COVID and vaccine.

Falsehoods include COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured, vaccines are not effective, it’s safer to get COVID than the vaccine and the vaccines are toxic, dangerous or cause autism.

Facebook also warned that groups, pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that repeatedly share falsehoods may be removed.

Administrators of groups that have administrators or members who have violated COVID-19 policies may also be required to temporarily approve all posts.

“We will begin enforcing this policy immediately, with a particular focus on Pages, groups and accounts that violate these rules, and we’ll continue to expand our enforcement over the coming weeks,” Facebook’s head of health Kang-Xing Jin said in a blog post.

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The social media giant is taking steps as researchers call the spread of vaccine misinformation a second pandemic and warn it poses a grave public health threat.

They say the riptide of misinformation is undercutting public trust in the immunizations.

Most alarming are false claims deterring communities of color already wary of the vaccine and distrustful of the medical establishment over past mistreatment. Anti-vaccine activists including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. falsely linked the death of legendary home-run hitter Hank Aaron in January at 86 to the coronavirus vaccine he received 17 days earlier.

Facebook says it will remove more COVID and vaccine misinformation from Facebook and Instagram.

False claims about vaccines have circulated on social media platforms for years, giving rise to a powerful anti-vaxxer movement with deep roots and a long reach.

One anti-vaxxer Facebook group with more than 200,000 members routinely circulates debunked theories such as the vaccines cause infertility.

CNN reported Monday that four of the top 10 search results for “vaccine” on Instagram were for anti-vaccination accounts, including “vaccinetruth,” “vaccinefreedom,” “antivaxxknowthefacts,” and “cv19vaccinereactions.”

Facebook says it draws a distinction between vaccine misinformation which violates its rules and posts that spread general anti-vaccine sentiment which does not.

Facebook also announced Monday that it will steer people to where and when they can get vaccinated, much like the campaign to help people find information about how to vote during the election.

It is also giving $120 million in ad credits to help health ministries, nonprofit organizations and UN agencies reach billions of people with COVID-19 vaccine and preventive health information.

“In 2021 we’re focused on supporting health leaders and public officials in their work to vaccinate billions of people against COVID-19,” Facebook’s Ji said. “Building trust and confidence in these vaccines is critical, so we’re launching the largest worldwide campaign to help public health organizations share accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines and encourage people to get vaccinated as vaccines become available to them.”

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