Facebook cracks down on vaccine misinformation ‘superspreaders’

Months after a report linked 73% of vaccine lies to 12 people, Facebook banned dozens of accounts.

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Karissa Bell
August 19th, 2021
Facebook logo displayed on a phone screen is seen with binary code displayed on a laptop screen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on August 17, 2021. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Back in March, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) published a report linking more than two-thirds of vaccine misinformation online to12 individuals. That statistic has been widely cited since, including by lawmakers and government officials, as proof that Facebook has failed to control lies about COVID-19 vaccines.

Now, five months later, Facebook says it has banned more than 36 accounts, groups, and Pages associated with these misinformation “superspreaders.” The company says it’s taken other actions to make other content associated with these individuals less visible, as well.

“We have also imposed penalties on nearly two dozen additional Pages, groups or accounts linked to these 12 people, like moving their posts lower in News Feed so fewer people see them or not recommending them to others,” Facebook said in a statement. “We’ve applied penalties to some of their website domains as well so any posts including their website content are moved lower in News Feed. Notably, some accounts associated with the group remain online, which Facebook says is because they are either “inactive,” not posting rule-breaking content or have only shared “a small amount” of such content.

Facebook has taken issue with the CCDH’s report since it was first published, disputing its methodology and its conclusion. In its latest statement, the social network said “there isn’t any evidence” to support the report’s claim that 73 percent of vaccine misinformation is linked to the group, which includes Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Joseph Mercola, Del Bigtree and other prominent anti-vaccine activists. Yet the report has become a headache for the company as it was cited by the US Surgeon General last month in a health advisory warning the public of vaccine misinformation online. Overall, the company has removed around 3,000 groups, pages and accounts for repeatedly breaking its rules against COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation during the pandemic, though the company still hasn’t shared stats on how often such misinformation is being viewed.

In a statement, CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed said that Facebook had “grossly misrepresented” the research. “Facebook has grossly misrepresented CCDH and Anti-Vax Watch's research while continuing to withhold the data that show how many of its users have been exposed to disinformation fueling vaccine hesitancy. CCDH and Anti-Vax Watch continue to be fully transparent about their methodologies, which rely on publicly available tools for tracking audience and content reach.”

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