LANSING — Social media has been key to spreading dangerous misinformation about recent global and national events, including the deadly coronavirus, vaccines designed to combat it and the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.
Now a group of state attorneys general, including Michigan’s, are calling on these wildly popular platforms to do more to stop the spread of misinformation that can potentially lead someone to not take a well-researched, life-saving COVID-19 vaccine.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 11 other attorneys general on Thursday, calling on Facebook and Twitter to take stronger measures. In letters to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the attorneys general urge both leaders to immediately and fully enforce company guidelines against vaccine misinformation to prevent needless infection and death.
The group says that false information regarding the safety of coronavirus vaccines by a small number of individuals lacking medical expertise and often motivated by their own financial interests has reached more than 59 million followers on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, threatening to undermine vaccine acceptance.
“Anti-vaxxers” have used these platforms to disproportionately target people of color and Black Americans specifically — communities who have already suffered the worst health impacts of the virus and whose vaccination rates are already lagging.
False information regarding the safety of coronavirus vaccines by a small number of individuals lacking medical expertise and often motivated by their own financial interests has reached more than 59 million followers on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, threatening to undermine vaccine acceptance
The letter cites specific examples where Facebook and Twitter have failed to enforce their existing guidelines, including:
- Twitter and Facebook have yet to remove from all their platforms the accounts of prominent anti-vaxxers who have repeatedly violated the companies’ terms of service. Digital media research groups estimate that as of March 10, 12 anti-vaxxers’ personal accounts and their associated organizations, groups and websites are responsible for 65 percent of public anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
- Facebook has failed to consistently apply misinformation labels and popups on Facebook pages and groups that discuss vaccines or COVID-19. For example, the company neglected to apply warning labels on dozens of Facebook groups that anti-vaxxer Larry Cook created for his followers. At the same time, the company has mistakenly flagged pro-vaccine pages and content in ways that have undermined pro-vaccine public education efforts.
- Facebook has allowed anti-vaxxers to skirt its policy of removing misinformation that health experts have debunked, by failing to prevent them from using video and streaming tools like Facebook Live and sites like Bitchute, Rumble and Brighteon to evade detection.
The letter comes as Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified on Thursday at a joint hearing of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee and the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding social media’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation.