Defying rules, anti-vaccine accounts thrive on social media
With vaccination against COVID-19 in full swing, social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter say they’ve stepped up their fight against misinformation that aims to undermine trust in the vaccines. But problems abound.
For years, the same platforms have allowed anti-vaccination propaganda to flourish, making it difficult to stamp out such sentiments now. And their efforts to weed out other types of COVID-19 misinformation — often with fact-checks, informational labels and other restrained measures, has been woefully slow.
Twitter, for instance, announced this month that it will remove dangerous falsehoods about vaccines, much the same way it’s done for other COVID-related conspiracy theories and misinformation. But since April 2020, it has removed a grand total of 8,400 tweets spreading COVID-related misinformation — a tiny fraction of the avalanche of pandemic-related falsehoods tweeted out daily by popular users with millions of followers, critics say.
“While they fail to take action, lives are being lost,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a watchdog group. In December, the nonprofit found that 59 million accounts across social platforms follow peddlers of anti-vax propaganda — many of whom are immensely popular superspreaders of misinformation.
Efforts to crack down on vaccine misinformation now, though, are generating cries of censorship and prompting some posters to adopt sneaky tactics to avoid the axe.
“It’s a hard situation because we have let this go for so long,” said Jeanine Guidry, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies social media and health information. “People using social media have really been able to share what they want for nearly a decade.”
The Associated Press identified more than a dozen Facebook...