Facebook Is Cracking Down on Anti-Vax Hoaxes

Posted on March 7, 2019 by Mehedi Hassan in Social with 48 Comments

Facebook today announced that the company is taking a range of different steps to crack down on vaccine-related misinformation on its platforms. There’s been a lot of talk around anti-vaccination lately, and that has obviously led to a ton of misinformation online.

Facebook is now working with leading global health organizations to identify vaccine-related hoaxes and take action against them. The company will now reduce the rank of Facebook Groups and Pages that spread misinformation. These groups and pages will be automatically removed from recommendations and search predictions as a result.

The company is also going to reject ads that include misinformation, and it will completely disable an ad account if they continue to advertise further misinformation. The social network is also going to stop people from targeting things like “vaccine controversies” on its network.

Instagram is affected as part of the latest crackdown, too — posts that contain misinformation will no longer be displayed on Instagram Explore or hashtag pages.

Facebook says the company is also looking to educate people about vaccines when they come across misinformation on the platform. The announcement comes just a day after Facebook announced its major privacy-focused transformation, and the company says it will continue to expand on today’s crackdown to help its network be safer.

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Comments (48)

48 responses to “Facebook Is Cracking Down on Anti-Vax Hoaxes”

  1. lvthunder

    Facebook better tread carefully. If they regulate speech too much they become a publisher instead of a platform in the US. If that happens then they will be liable for everything that gets posted. The only speech that is allowed to be silenced on a platform is illegal speech.

    • jbinaz

      In reply to lvthunder:

      Yep. As insane as I think anti-vaxxers are, is it Facebook's place to regulate what does and doesn't get published? I personally don't think so. I understand that unvaccinated children pose a risk to others, but at what point does that risk become too high? I don't think we're there yet.

      • christian.hvid

        In reply to jbinaz:

        I think this is partially about Facebook making amends not only for enabling foreign interference into various elections, but also for even more serious matters, such as Facebook being the catalyst for the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

        Facebook is in effect already a publisher - people who trust Facebook as a company also tend to trust whatever is published on the platform, and the distinction between platform and publisher is increasingly becoming meaningless. And as a de facto publisher, they do have a moral, if not legal, obligation to try and weed out the most dangerous lies and misinformation.

        • lvthunder

          In reply to christian.hvid:

          The legal definition is that a platform doesn't control the content, but a publisher does. Facebook couldn't exist as a publisher because of all the copyright violations. Here's an example. The telephone is a platform. You are allowed to say whatever you want on the telephone and the phone company can't stop you. The newspaper is a publisher. They are held accountable (for the most part) for what they publish.

          • christian.hvid

            In reply to lvthunder:

            Yeah, you and I know that. But average Joe couldn't care less about Facebook's legal status - it's just a source of information. And if he trusts a source of information that spews dangerous and intentional lies all day long, it can have very real consequences. As in people dying. Someone has to take responsibility for this, and lawmakers sure as hell won't.

            Besides, Facebook is a private company and has every right to curate or censor their platform in any way they see fit. Anti-vaxxers, racists, Russian trolls, climate change deniers, flat-earthers and others are completely free to create their own platforms if they want to. Free speech means you're free to say anything you want (within limits), not that anybody else is required to give you a soapbox to stand on.

      • lvthunder

        In reply to jbinaz:

        The discussion that needs to happen is above just the anti-vaxxers and is just a speech issue. Once those guys are gone then who's next. Is it gun enthusiasts? Is it religious speech? Is it anti-government speech? Now the unvaccinated kids issue is separate from the speech issue. There are states that require vaccines to attend public school, etc.

      • Skolvikings

        In reply to jbinaz:

        Yep. As insane as I think anti-vaxxers are, is it Facebook's place to regulate what does and doesn't get published? I personally don't think so. I understand that unvaccinated children pose a risk to others, but at what point does that risk become too high? I don't think we're there yet.

        Unvaccinated children posing a risk to others doesn't mean people who oppose vaccines shouldn't be able to congregate online and discuss their opinions (however crazy they may be). I think they should be free to communicate online. That said, Facebook is a corporation and they set the rules for their platform.

    • the_real_entheos

      In reply to lvthunder:

      I don't think they should worry about doing the right thing, and I kind of have a feeling they have lawyers who aren't either.

  2. rm

    Facebook should actually promote this stance with advertisements on TV. They need to start changing the perception that Facebook just doesn't care.

  3. red.radar

    If Facebook is cracking down on hoaxes and lies that is within their right. I don’t believe lies and deception are protected speech. Especially when it can cause harm to the misinformed.

    But if a group is accurately communicating risks... it’s a fine line and I am sure Facebook will get it right /s

  4. Steven Lendowski

    While i do think pro-vacc, this is just the next step in "cracking down" on free speech, just like neocon war mongerers who work to build up a new cold war since the Yeltsin years use their McCarthyism to push their war propaganda and silence alternative opinions.

    Now often in alliance with pseudo liberal rich kids from Silicon Valley who like themselves in their self proclaimed role of political power without any democratic legitimation. With those transnational mega corporations respecting only themselves, and having so much power that any single national state could not challange them is another story and problem aside from this issue of censorship.

    Democracy LIVES from different opinions, and we NEED to accept those even if they sometimes seem absurd. Plus there is no such thing as definitive knowledge, and sience evolves. Anyone who claims to have definitive knowledge is lying to theirselves.

    So to those especially on the left who believe suppression of dissent is a progressive and positive way of living democracy will be those who are resposible when this whitch hunt Democracy style falls back on the left and is used by the far right.

    It may be a good feeling to some to see political opponents suppressed, but to swap such a short good feeling against loosing a good bit of political freedom for everyone seems at least as absurd as the anti-vacc debate..

    Either accept that there are people with different, sometimes even absurd seeming opinions and live in a healthy democracy, or contribute to the accelerating death of it, and become no different than the Middle Eastern or Latin American Dictators the US of A sponsors..

    I choose Democracy. True Democracy, not a superficial pseudo Democracy "in Name only". With a society that accepts itself with all conflicting values, and learns to solve its differences by dialog, and not by cold civil war.

    I hope..

    • Daishi

      In reply to AllThisEv1l:

      But anti-vax conspiracy theories aren’t a difference of opinion. They’re dangerous nonsense that has been repeatedly and consistently debunked. This isn’t a free speech issue.

      • Daekar

        In reply to Daishi:

        You're missing the point entirely.


        To the folks in power at the time, it wasn't a difference of opinion that the universe was geocentric, anyone who proposed heliocentrism was crazy because everything they knew and all the authorities they looked to declared things to be otherwise.


        To the nutritional science establishment just a few years ago, it wasn't a difference of opinion that fats could be good for you and carbs were a problem, the people promoting those perspectives were dangerous nutters pushing bogus claims. Careers were intentionally ruined over it and voices silenced. Now we know that those authorities that we trusted to give us the truth, that we believed had given us the truth, were wrong.


        There are countless examples of situations where what we KNEW in our BONES to be true turned out not to be, whether or not we thought science supported the majority opinion. Remember, in part of the 20th century the Sun was powered by atomic fission.


        It is incredibly blind to believe that out of everything you hold dear as scientific truth supported by current consensus, none of it will be overturned later as naïve foolishness believed by those who just didn't know better. Shutting down dialogue leads to stagnation, not progress.

        • skane2600

          In reply to Daekar:

          Science hasn't taken a definitive stance on fats vs carbs, it was people promoting a particular diet that made the claims. You have to look at the relative complexity of these questions too. Determining the lifetime effect of the particular food you consume is far harder to determine than the well established understanding of how vaccines work.

          We know of the great success vaccines have had, but if some new scientific finding contradicts the conclusions (although it would be a bit like proving airplanes can't really fly), the refined understanding will be eventually adopted. But it doesn't make sense to not take advantage of the understanding of the world we have now just because science got some things wrong in the past.

          Also credible scientific debate doesn't happen on Facebook.

        • Greg Green

          In reply to Daekar:

          While I’m pro vacc, there’s no shortage of major scientific ideas that are facts today after being yesterday’s heresies. The most recent one that I can think of was that stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria. Two Aussies who proposed this were mocked. Eventually they won Nobels for it.

          • skane2600

            In reply to Greg Green:

            I'm not sure how relevant that is to the vacs debate, but my general observation is that as medical science progresses, theories that diseases are based on personal behavior tend to be discredited and your ulcer example is a good illustration of that. The idea of health by good behavior I call "The Protestant Health Ethic".

    • ajgisler

      In reply to AllThisEv1l:

      I have a lot of sympathy for your view and would have supported it 100% a few years ago. I am a big "L" libertarian but I do think mandating vaccination is something our government should do. Not being vaccinated creates externalities on others by lack of there own choice. So the non vaxers are in a sense using force on the rest of society. Externalities is something the free market does struggle with, which is why I believe government should have a small role in setting emission standards.

      Regarding free speech, I do think there is a serious problems with the power these tech giants hold to censor. Of course they are allowed to censor as much as they like but they are the public square now. I think this is a very difficult situation given I don't want them regulated but I can't deny there power over public debate.

      I find it more interesting the net neutrality supporters fear an ISP blocking content or a site because of its politics (which has yet to happen) but don't seem to bother about the restrictions on content with social media.

      I believe our republic will be fine but over the next couple decades may hit some bumps. Social media is a very new thing that we are all having to work out.

  5. provision l-3

    It seems to me that Facebook seems to be consistently chasing progress while acting like they are driving it.

  6. the_real_entheos

    Why do you waste everyone's time spreading lies? What good does it do you?

    In reply to dnglws75:

  7. Winner

    Facebook is afraid that all of their sliminess is catching up to them.

  8. skane2600

    In reply to dnglws75:

    There isn't a direct correlation between payout amounts and the relative frequency of payoffs. And of course payoffs aren't proof that people were harmed by a vaccine in every case. The more meaningful statistic is that for every 1 million people who got a vaccine 1 person received a payout. That's 0.0001%.

  9. mattbg

    It's kind of funny (and damning for AI) that anyone would be "recommended" to view anti-vaccine groups and forums :)

    This seems like a reasonable approach to me. It's sort of like the Apple approach - identify what people are having trouble with and deal with that specifically. Rather than trying to create a one-size-fits-all solution and police the whole thing with AI while making all kinds of positive and negative errors, just kill the stuff that is causing the most harm and get yourself out of the press.

  10. markbyrn

    “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” 

    ― Salman Rushdie

  11. zeratul456

    In reply to dnglws75:

    This is why we have epidemics of diseases that we thought were largely killed off by vaccine. Because pro-diseasers like you keep spreading lies and disinformation.

  12. pecosbob04

    There are children who for one reason or another cannot be vaccinated. This is usually because illness or the treatment of it has compromised the childs immune system. An otherwise healthy but unvaccinated child can be a disease vector for a disease (measles for example) that while representing a minor inconvenience for him and his family presents a life threatening danger to the unvaccinated child with the compromised immune system and others in his surroundings. This is not a hypothetical, it happens often. Then also, sometimes the healthy child dies. VACCINATE YOUR (EXPLITIVE DELETED) KIDS!

  13. longhorn

    The problem with pro-vaxxers is that they want to make decisions for other people. They say: If I take a vaccine shot but you don't then my vaccine shot doesn't work. Nice logic.

    Every vaccine has an insert with possible side effects listed. Read this and the list of ingredients before making decisions. At least you'll be more informed.

    Making vaccination mandatory like in California for school children is medical tyranny, not worthy of a democracy. Vaccines are a multi billion dollar business without liability (vaccine injuries are handled by the state/country). These companies are dangerous because they care more about profits than vaccine safety, because right now vaccine safety isn't something they are forced to deal with from a monetary perspective.

    • skane2600

      In reply to longhorn:

      As reported in 2015, the total number of settlements over 25 years in the US were 3,887. Even so, a settlement doesn't necessary indicate a connection between the vaccination and the illness. 80,000 people died in the US in 2017 from the flu. Not to mention all the people who died from other diseases that have been eradicated through vaccines.

      If you live in any society, you don't get to do whatever you want in all cases. You say "not worthy of a Democracy", so if the majority voted in favor of mandatory vaccines you wouldn't have any objection?

      • longhorn

        In reply to skane2600:

        Medical treatment is a personal choice. Medical treatment should never be forced on someone. Vaccines are not risk free with many documented cases that Big Pharma wants to remove from public view.

        How can you force someone to undergo medical treatment? The body is the last sanctuary where we don't want the government to intervene. Forced medical procedures sound like The Reich if you ask me.

        I can't believe that Americans that are supposed to honor individual rights have been so enslaved by Big Government and Big Pharma. What has happened in California is very dangerous because when you surrender your body you are nothing but a victim of the whims of the people in power.

        You may trust them today, but do you trust them tomorrow? The ingredients in the vaccines can be altered you know and if you accept mandatory vaccination you have no say what they inject into your body. You become a slave, not even in charge of your own body.

        • skane2600

          In reply to longhorn:

          As I said, you don't get 100% freedom. I think paying taxes to kill people in other countries should be a personal choice but if I want to live in the US (and not go to jail), I have to do it anyway.

          I don't worry about "magic" drugs that turn you into a zombie.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to longhorn:

      Where is your proof that the companies care more about profits than vaccine safety? That's pure speculation. Plus what we should be talking about is free speech. That's the bigger issue here.

    • provision l-3

      In reply to longhorn:

      "If I take a vaccine shot but you don't then my vaccine shot doesn't work."

      You either don't understand how vaccines work or don't understand the argument for vaccines because that in now way is the argument that healthcare professionals use.

    • ajgisler

      In reply to longhorn:

      First we don't live in a democracy, we live in a republic.

      Your hatred of corporations misguiding you. Corporations are made up of individuals that have loved ones, families and friends. Of course they care about profits but that doesn't mean they do over the safety of people. There is zero evidence that vaccination causes harm and even if it does its a fraction of a percent. Everything in life is a risk, and so is vaccination.

      I don't want government telling me what I can eat or what medical procedures I am allowed to have but people not getting vaccinations creates health problems for other people by no choice of their own. This extranality is why government has a right to demand people be vaccinated, especially when the science is conclusive. If I chose to eat like crap or believe the earth is flat the only person I harm is myself, not being vaccinated potentially harms the rest of society.

  14. Daekar

    Does this mean I will be censored if I tell people that the flu vaccine doesn't work? Because from my experience and the experience of those I love and work with, it absolutely doesn't.

    That aside, this doesn't surprise me. More speech regulation for the good of the masses being regulated. The beneficent gods of Silicon Valley are letting the light of truth flow forth from their sheltering hands... you know, because they could never be wrong about anything and nobody else's opinion matters at the end of the day.

    FWIW, I think vaccines are amazing and I'm glad my parents had my doctor give them to me. It's incredible that some of the diseases that killed millions of people throughout history have been almost completely eradicated. Still, to my mind this isn't about vaccines at the end of the day... it's about the next paradigm shift. Raise your hand if you think this kind of speech suppression could also curtail the spread of ideas about how wrong our dietary guidelines are concerning fat and carbs, and that they are directly responsible for the deaths of countless people around the world. The ENTIRE modern scientific community, save for a very very few shunned researchers, believed that fat would kill you, that you needed to eat glucose to live, etc. The ENTIRE scientific community, the one that I was raised to practically worship as the collective wisdom of humanity rendered infallible by the scientific method, was dead wrong. Shutting down dialogue is wrong and dangerous.

  15. Thom77

    I don't see the big deal about this.

    Its not like the vaccine companies basically have immunity from civil actions resulting from injury or death from the normal administration of their product.

    I mean, if that was the case, it would sure raise my suspicions about the safety of these products.

    oh wait ....

    42 U.S. Code § 300aa–22.Standards of responsibility

  16. skane2600

    Lots of weird theories on the Premium side today.

  17. skane2600

    Unvaccinated boy nearly died from tetanus. The cost of his care was almost $1 million. : nbcnews.com/health/kids-health/unvaccinated-boy-almost-died-tetanus-hospital-bill-was-more-800-n981256

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