Facebook cracks down on vaccine misinformation

Facebook is taking a series of new steps to crack down on misinformation about vaccines amid widespread concerns that Big Tech companies are failing to rid their platforms of this content.

The social network, which has taken heat for allowing anti-vaxxer communities to flourish and in some cases to harass medical professionals, announced that it will now reduce the ranking of groups or pages that spread misinformation about vaccines, and will make sure such groups or pages are not included in recommendations or predictions when you type into Facebook's search box.

In a blog post, the Menlo Park, Calif. company said it will reject any ads containing misinformation about vaccines, remove any targeted advertising options like "vaccine controversies," and will no longer show or recommend content containing this type of misinformation on Instagram Explore or hashtag pages.

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The company's crackdown comes amid a measles outbreak in Washington state and just days after Ethan Lindenberger, 18, testified in Congress about his experience getting vaccinated in defiance of his parents' wishes.

Other Silicon Valley mainstays have ramped up efforts against anti-vaxxers online. Google-owned YouTube removed ads from videos promoting anti-vaccination rhetoric, and Pinterest last year blocked all searches for vaccines or vaccinations.

"Leading global health organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have publicly identified verifiable vaccine hoaxes. If these vaccine hoaxes appear on Facebook, we will take action against them," Monika Bickert, VP of global policy management at Facebook, said in a statement.

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If a page or group administrator posts such vaccine misinformation, according to Facebook, the entire group or page will be excluded from the network's powerful recommendation algorithm and see their presence reduced in Newsfeed and search.

Facebook is exploring ways to provide its 2.2 billion users with more accurate information from expert organizations about the topic of vaccines and said it will provide further updates soon.

The World Health Organization has called anti-vaxxers a "top global threat," saying that "vaccine hesitancy threatens to reverse progress in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases."

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