Amid measles outbreaks, Facebook considering how to reduce spread of anti-vaccine content

Facebook is looking into suppressing certain anti-vaccine messaging on its social platform, a move that raises questions about free speech and public health....

Posted: Feb 15, 2019 3:03 PM
Updated: Feb 15, 2019 4:15 PM

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.

Arthur Caplan, a professor and founding head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Health in New York, said that he is 'very supportive' of Facebook's new efforts to police anti-vaccine messaging.

'They don't have to be a platform for lying, for fearmongering, for inaccuracy, especially when children are put at risk,' said Caplan, who has written about anti-vaccination groups' social media presence in the journal Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics.

'I'm not trying to say that somebody can't take positions against vaccines on Facebook,' he said. 'I know people are going to say this is an intrusion into free speech -- many anti-vaxxers will say that -- but no one is saying you can't be anti-vaccination. What we're saying is, you can't lie. You can't fearmonger.'

In the state of Washington, a measles outbreak in Clark County, just north of Portland, Oregon, has been officially declared a state of emergency. At least 58 people have been infected since the outbreak began in January, according to state and local health officials.

'It is exquisitely contagious,' said Dr. Alan Melnick, director of the county health department. 'You can be in a room where somebody with measles had left two hours earlier and still get the disease.'

Measles kills about 2 of every 1,000 children infected, he said. 'The thing that keeps me up at night is having a death, you know, a child die from this.'

Washington lawmakers are now weighing a bill, House Bill 1638, that would tighten the state's vaccination rules, according to CNN affiliate KOIN.

Vaccination rates in Clark County are low partly because Washington allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children, not only for medical and religious reasons but for 'philosophical' and 'personal' ones. Lawmakers are debating removing those provisions for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

'Hundreds of thousands of people in my community have been involved in this issue and have lent support to this bill,' Rep. Paul Harris told the State Assembly last week. He represents Clark County and is sponsoring the legislation.

'They're concerned about our community, its immunity and the community safety.'

Bernadette Pajer, co-president of the advocacy group Informed Choice Washington, which opposes mandatory vaccination, told CNN affiliate KOIN that the bill 'takes away our freedom.'

Anti-vaccination activists protested outside the State Assembly during a hearing on the bill last week.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 750432

Reported Deaths: 13764
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1031991782
Lake556411007
Allen41662691
St. Joseph36974564
Hamilton36561417
Elkhart29390459
Tippecanoe22886225
Vanderburgh22549400
Porter19348325
Johnson18432388
Hendricks17608317
Clark13206193
Madison13139344
Vigo12608253
LaPorte12415221
Monroe12188175
Delaware10954198
Howard10285225
Kosciusko9619119
Hancock8562145
Bartholomew8164157
Warrick7856156
Floyd7781180
Grant7232179
Wayne7160201
Boone6939103
Morgan6746141
Dubois6214118
Marshall6208116
Cass6000109
Dearborn589578
Henry5895109
Noble580787
Jackson508975
Shelby500896
Lawrence4738122
Gibson444593
Clinton441455
Harrison441073
DeKalb439485
Montgomery436390
Whitley406343
Huntington402481
Steuben399759
Miami393169
Jasper387454
Knox375890
Putnam372160
Wabash360683
Ripley346970
Adams345355
Jefferson335785
White331553
Daviess3033100
Wells295181
Decatur289992
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey273835
LaGrange273072
Scott270156
Clay266448
Washington245234
Randolph244783
Jennings235349
Spencer234431
Starke227958
Fountain220348
Sullivan214343
Owen211658
Fulton202142
Jay200932
Carroll193420
Orange188155
Perry187137
Rush175826
Vermillion174644
Franklin170335
Tipton166146
Parke149316
Pike138234
Blackford136232
Pulaski120547
Newton113736
Brown104043
Crawford102316
Benton101414
Martin91615
Warren83815
Switzerland8118
Union72810
Ohio57811
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1108146

Reported Deaths: 20122
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1286421460
Cuyahoga1157382208
Hamilton813551248
Montgomery525311041
Summit48395999
Lucas43343818
Butler38951604
Stark33318929
Lorain25658504
Warren24580303
Mahoning22355603
Lake21166387
Clermont20111253
Delaware18841135
Licking16660222
Fairfield16570204
Trumbull16537482
Medina15603271
Greene15272247
Clark14233306
Wood13287198
Portage13242214
Allen11910239
Richland11601211
Miami10843224
Wayne9130222
Columbiana9029230
Muskingum8906135
Pickaway8658122
Tuscarawas8643248
Marion8641138
Erie8056164
Ashtabula7147179
Hancock6996132
Ross6943161
Geauga6834150
Scioto6534105
Belmont6155174
Union584549
Lawrence5726102
Jefferson5675158
Huron5544122
Sandusky5439125
Darke5415129
Seneca5347126
Washington5318109
Athens523660
Auglaize501887
Mercer487385
Shelby476595
Knox4570112
Madison444065
Ashland435597
Putnam4336103
Defiance432298
Fulton432072
Crawford4036110
Brown402461
Logan387577
Preble3848104
Clinton379166
Ottawa373581
Highland359665
Williams348078
Champaign344258
Guernsey324853
Jackson318154
Perry297350
Morrow291840
Fayette285450
Hardin274965
Henry273367
Holmes2699101
Coshocton268960
Van Wert247264
Adams243156
Pike242835
Gallia240750
Wyandot234556
Hocking220162
Carroll197148
Paulding176542
Meigs148240
Monroe136344
Noble136039
Harrison114138
Morgan109624
Vinton85517
Unassigned03
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