Attorneys general as Facebook, Twitter to crack down on anti-vaccine posts


Attorneys general from 12 Democratic states ask Facebook and Twitter to ‘take immediate steps’ to stop spread of information from anti-vaxxers that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe

  • The Democratic attorneys general for 12 states on Wednesday demanded Facebook and Twitter crack down on anti-vaccine posts
  • They said anti-vaxxers were spreading false information about COVID-19 vaccines on the social media sites 
  • They accused the social media giants of doing too little to stop people from using their platforms to spread what they argue is false information 
  • The attorneys general called on both companies to enforce their own community guidelines by removing or flagging vaccine misinformation 

The Democratic attorneys general for 12 states have demanded Facebook and Twitter ‘take immediate steps’ to stop the spread of what they say is false information about COVID-19 vaccines on the social media sites.

In a letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, the attorneys general said on Wednesday that ‘anti-vaxxers’ lacking medical expertise and often motivated by financial gain have used the platforms to downplay the danger of COVID-19 and exaggerate the risks of vaccination. 

They accused the social media giants of doing too little to stop people from using their platforms to spread the false information that coronavirus vaccines are unsafe. 

They called on both companies to enforce their own community guidelines by removing or flagging vaccine misinformation.  

Twitter's Jack Dorsey

In a letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, the attorneys general demanded on Wednesday that the companies crack down on anti-vaccine posts

The Democratic attorneys general for 12 states, including Connecticut's William Tong, have demanded Facebook and Twitter 'take immediate steps' to stop the spread of what they say is false information about COVID-19 vaccines

The Democratic attorneys general for 12 states, including Connecticut’s William Tong, have demanded Facebook and Twitter ‘take immediate steps’ to stop the spread of what they say is false information about COVID-19 vaccines

The letter quotes figures from the Center for Countering Digital Hate that claims there are 59 million subscribers to anti-vaccine accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

The letter also adds claims from digital research groups estimating that 12 accounts are responsible for 65 percent of anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

It also said some misinformation targets black communities and others of color where vaccination rates are lagging.

‘Given anti-vaxxers’ reliance on your platforms, you are uniquely positioned to prevent the spread of misinformation about coronavirus vaccines that poses a direct threat to the health and safety of millions of Americans in our states and that will prolong our road to recovery,’ the letter said.

The letter was signed by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said the company has removed millions of pieces of COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation and tries to combat ‘vaccine hesitancy’ by regularly directing users to reliable information from health authorities.

Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said the company has removed millions of pieces of COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation and tries to combat 'vaccine hesitancy' by regularly directing users to reliable information from health authorities (an example is pictured above)

Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said the company has removed millions of pieces of COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation and tries to combat ‘vaccine hesitancy’ by regularly directing users to reliable information from health authorities (an example is pictured above)

Twitter said it has removed more than 22,400 tweets in connection with its policy toward COVID-19 posts and prioritizes removing content that could cause ‘real-world’ harm.

It comes as Zuckerman, Dorsey and Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai are scheduled to testify on Thursday before a congressional hearing about combating online disinformation. 

In testimony prepared for the hearing, Zuckerberg laid out steps for ‘thoughtful reform’ for the key internet law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  

He acknowledged calls from lawmakers for changes to the law, which currently gives companies like Facebook immunity from liability over content posted by users. 

Zuckerberg said companies should have to follow best practices for removing damaging material from their platforms and demonstrate they have systems in place for identifying it.

But he said that online services still shouldn’t be held liable for ‘if a particular piece of content evades its detection’ because he argued that it wasn’t feasible for platforms like Facebook, which has billions of posts per day.  

Zuckerberg said the requirements should be ‘proportionate to platform size and set by a third-party’ so that the biggest services don’t have an advantage over new startups. 

He said best practices should not include encryption or privacy changes, which he said were ‘unrelated issues’ because they ‘deserve a full debate in their own right’. 

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