After Facebook already started removing vaccine misinformation from its platform, Instagram is still struggling to do so
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is working on removing the distribution of misinformation about vaccines. At a press event in New York that took place this week, Instagram execs said vaccine misinformation is not eligible for recommendation to its Explore, hashtag and search pages, but discussion about vaccines as a general topic is still allowed and can be recommended in these places.
The event came exactly two months after Facebook announced it was working to address vaccine misinformation on the platform by decreasing its reach and giving users legitimate information on the topic. At the event, an Instagram spokesperson added that the platform’s efforts are focused on vaccine misinformation, not the anti-vax movement itself. This means that Instagram wants to reduce false information about vaccines and focus on removing “publicly identified verifiable vaccine hoaxes” like #VaccinesCauseAIDS, but not ban people who identify as anti-vaxers or publish anti-vaccine posts.
Scientists have repeatedly debunked the most common anti-vax myth of vaccination causing autism in children and reputable organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics say that vaccination for children is crucial to public health. Daniel Salmon, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety stated:
“Vaccines are extremely safe. Serious adverse reactions are very, very rare. It’s very unfortunate that there would be such a hashtag because it’s going to scare people. If you scare people, less people will get vaccinated and you’ll have outbreaks of things like measles which can kill children.”
While they said Instagram’s focus has been on lessening the reach of vaccine misinformation, executives said the company is open to removing some of this content as well. They also announced that Instagram has plans to add a pop-up warning when users search for vaccine-related information that will provide authoritative information on the topic. The feature is still in development and a launch date is not yet available. Instagram also displays a pop-up alert when people search for hashtags or terms related to self-harm or suicide, the pop-up shows a message with a warning and a link to support resources. Instagram spokespeople stated:
“We’re definitely constantly re-evaluating our policies, but that’s something we’re looking at now and always. We’re looking at how we can limit harm through blocking and other means, and we’re also looking at the opportunity to provide accurate information.”