Information discouraging people from getting vaccines for their children, which has gone viral on Facebook, especially in its Groups product, may have contributed to an increase in outbreaks of measles. (Shutterstock.com/Bloomua)
Facebook Inc., under pressure to reduce harmful, misleading and fake content, said it is exploring removing anti-vaccine information from software systems that recommend other things to read on its social network.
Information discouraging people from getting vaccines for their children, which has gone viral on Facebook, especially in its Groups product, may have contributed to an increase in outbreaks of measles. The crisis drew attention on Thursday from Representative Adam Schiff, who sent a letter to Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Google boss Sundar Pichai, asking them to address the problem.
In response, Facebook said it is “exploring additional measures to best combat the problem," according to a statement from the company. That might include “reducing or removing this type of content from recommendations, including Groups You Should Join, and demoting it in search results, while also ensuring that higher quality and more authoritative information is available."
Google, which did not immediately respond to a comment about Schiff’s letter, has already been taking similar measures. Last month, Google’s YouTube unfurled a change in the way it recommends videos -- an automated system that has been criticized for promoting misinformation. YouTube said it would starting cutting videos with "borderline content" that "misinform users in harmful ways" from its recommendation system. The company only offered three examples. One was videos that promote "a phony miracle cure for a serious illness."
Schiff, a Democrat from California, cited several reasons tech companies should be taking action. The World Health Organization listed reluctance or refusal to get vaccines as a top threat to global health this year. Also, he highlighted a resurgence of measles in Clark County, Washington.
“There is strong evidence to suggest that at least part of the source of this trend is the degree to which medically inaccurate information about vaccines surface on the websites where many Americans get their information,” Schiff wrote. “The algorithms which power these services are not designed to distinguish quality information from misinformation or misleading information, and the consequences of that are particularly troubling for public health issues.”
The first result under a search for "vaccines" on YouTube is a video showing a “middle ground” debate between supporters of vaccines and those who think they’re dangerous. The fourth result is first episode of a popular anti-vaccine documentary series called “The Truth About Vaccines.” It has almost 1.2 million views.