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Facebook, vaccine, misinformation, disinformation, social media, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, COVID-19, flu, speech, regulation


On October 13, 2020 Facebook announced the adoption of a series of measures to promote vaccine trust “while prohibiting ads with misinformation that could harm public health efforts.” In the post written by Kang-Xing Jin (head of health) and Rob Leathern (director of product management), the company explained that the new measures were designed with an emphasis on encouraging widespread use of this yearʼs flu vaccine, as well as in anticipation of potential COVID-19 vaccines becoming available in the near future.

The changes focus mainly on the establishment of a multiprong informational campaign about the seasonal flu vaccine, which includes directing users to vaccine-related content from public health organizations and providing sharable vaccination reminders. Moreover, Facebook announced that it was adopting a policy of rejecting ads explicitly “discouraging people from getting vaccinated.” Some vaccine-related ads, specifically those advocating “for or against legislation or government policies around vaccines—including a COVID-19 vaccine—are still allowed.” These types of ads have to be authorized by Facebook and display a label indicating who paid for the ad.

Facebookʼs newest set of vaccine-specific measures constitutes an improvement over the status quo, especially by providing an educational campaign tailored to an ongoing seasonal event. However, it leaves the problem of the circulation of vaccine misinformation—the dissemination of inaccurate content—largely untouched and does virtually nothing to remove the well-established sources of vaccine misinformation within the Facebook network. While Facebook is not the only social media platform where levels of vaccine misinformation have escalated dramatically in recent years, it constitutes the most popular social media venue for the sharing and consumption of anti-vaccine and anti-vaccination content. This post explores the vaccine misinformation landscape against which Facebook announced its new policy and explains why this policy is insufficient as a meaningful deterrent to the spread of vaccine misinformation.