Facebook’s ban on legitimate news and health sites has given anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists a free kick, writes Jane Hansen.
Facebook’s ban on legitimate news and health sites has given anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists a free kick, writes Jane Hansen.

COVID lies thrive on Facebook as vaccine rolls out

ANALYSIS

Facebook has ban legitimate news sites and COVID-19 health information sites on the eve of the biggest vaccine rollout in Australian history, but anti-vaxxers have planned a nationwide march on Saturday via Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

The Millions March against Mandatory COVID Vaccinations has been exclusively organised via social media and planned for every capital city today. Since the pandemic, began, Facebook has facilitated a proliferation of anti-vaccine, COVID-denying conspiratorial content to be shared via their platform for free with experts claiming the failure to act will undermine vaccination efforts.

Facebook’s new blackout is allowing anti-vaxxers to go unchecked.
Facebook’s new blackout is allowing anti-vaxxers to go unchecked.

Despite slow crackdowns on high profile anti-vaxxers like Pete Evans, who was removed from Instagram last Thursday, and Facebook in December last year, Facebook has ignored a growing number of exclusively anti-vaccine groups that have been multiplying on its sites.

Australian Freedom Keepers, Unvaccinate Australia, Millions March Against Mandatory Vaccination, Reignite Democracy Australia are all sites operated by anti-vaccine activists. COVID-denier Avi Yemeni's Rebel News Australia site is still on Facebook despite being peppered with fake news. These sites remain up while legitimate news sites, and health sites like the Public Health Association of Australia have been blocked.

Melbourne paediatrician and vaccine expert Associate Professor Margie Danchin said social media like Facebook was the leading platform where people source their information and the void left will be filled with dissenting voices.

"It's incredibly irresponsible and reprehensive in the middle of a pandemic to block trusted sources of information days before we roll out vaccines. We know people source their information online and it is one of the primary sources and to block that is gatekeeping access to trusted and reputable information," A/Prof Danchin said.

Professor Matt Warren, Director of RMIT University Centre for Cyber Security Research and Innovation said the move by Facebook to remove legitimate news content gave anti-vaxxers a bigger voice at the worst possible time.

"These actions by Facebook will speed up the spread of fake news and the dissemination of misinformation across the Facebook platform," Prof Warren said.

 

Medical experts have slammed Facebook’s decision to ban factual information while anti-vax sites thrive unchecked.
Medical experts have slammed Facebook’s decision to ban factual information while anti-vax sites thrive unchecked.

 

Facebook has failed to curb the massive amount of misinformation its users post since the pandemic began last year he said.

"Facebook has not managed this at all, extreme views and Facebook hasn't been effective in removing it, they are not able to quickly remove those sites. Pete Evans he has only just been taken down from Instagram, but it took such a long time.

"Health providers may not have a platform to share information about the vaccine rollout as one of their engagement platforms. These anti-vaccine groups are going to have a platform where they can disseminate their misinformation and potentially impact the vaccine rollout and take up in Australia," he said.

The Public Health Association of Australia was one of the sites removed by Facebook. CEO Terry Slevin said: "it is important that valid information about health and welfare, whether it is pandemic related, vaccine related or more broadly publicly important information doesn't become the sacrificial lamb in this fight."

Facebook only moved last October to ban ads that discourage people from getting vaccines.

A report by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) released last year found that that social media accounts held by anti-vaxxers have increased their following by at least 7·8 million people since 2019.

The CCDH also found that 31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook.

Another study published in Nature journal found that anti-vaxxers were highly engaged with the undecided and that within a decade the anti-vaccination movement could overwhelm pro-vaccination voices online.

 

Originally published as COVID lies thrive on Facebook as vaccine rolls out

An anti-vaccine Facebook sites still allowed to operate online.
An anti-vaccine Facebook sites still allowed to operate online.

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