Facebook is looking into suppressing certain anti-vaccine messaging on its social platform, a move that raises questions about free speech and public health.
“We’ve taken steps to reduce the distribution of health-related misinformation on Facebook, but we know we have more to do. We’re currently working with outside experts on additional changes that we’ll be announcing soon,” a representative for the social media giant said Friday.
In recent years, anti-vaccination groups have been vocal on Facebook, frequently sharing and posting information against vaccines and their safety. At the same time, there has been a rise in cases of measles and other infectious diseases across the United States.
On Thursday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff wrote open letters to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai about his concern that the technology companies are allowing the spread of anti-vaccine misinformation.
He wrote to Zuckerberg, “Facebook and Instagram are surfacing and recommending messages that discourage parents from vaccinating their children, a direct threat to public health, and reversing progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.”
That open letter went on to ask Zuckerberg whether distributing medically inaccurate information about vaccines violated the social media platform’s terms of service and whether Facebook accepts paid advertising from anti-vaccine activists, among other questions.
“There is no evidence to suggest that vaccines cause life-threatening or disabling diseases, and the dissemination of unfounded and debunked theories about the dangers of vaccinations pose a great risk to public health,” Schiff wrote.
Google, which also owns YouTube, had no direct response to the letters but noted that YouTube has worked to improve recommendations regarding content.
Schiff’s letter noted that he “was pleased” to see YouTube’s announcement in January that it would no longer recommend videos that violate its community guidelines, including “content that could misinform users in harmful ways,” according to the announcement.
Now, it seems, Facebook has entered the vaccine battle as it mulls the distribution of anti-vaccination messaging on its platform.