Facebook will remove misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines

Facebook announced it will begin to remove misinformation about coronavirus vaccines as the U.S. and the rest of the Western world gets ready for their massive rollout. 

In a blog post published on Thursday, the social media giant said it will get rid of false claims about vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts on Facebook and Instagram. According to Facebook, it is applying the policy to remove misinformation about the virus that could lead to “imminent physical harm.”

“This could include false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines,” the post said. “For example, we will remove false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips, or anything else that isn’t on the official vaccine ingredient list.”

Facebook will also remove conspiracy theories about vaccines, such as rumors of specific populations being used without their consent to test the vaccine’s safety. 

The company said it wouldn’t enforce the policies immediately because “facts about COVID-19 vaccines will continue to evolve.” However, it will regularly update claims it removes based on guidance from public health experts. 

The decision is a reversal from company CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s previous stance. Earlier this year, Zuckerberg said social media companies should not be the “arbiters of truth.”  In the months that followed, Facebook unveiled steps to warn users and limiting misinformation. 

It also comes months after advocacy group Avaaz found misleading health content on Facebook racked up an estimated 3.8 billion views in the previous year, saying the platform’s algorithm is a “major threat to public health.” Websites spreading health misinformation peaked at an estimated 460 million views on Facebook in April of this year, as the world began to grapple with the coronavirus.

Earlier this week, Zuckerberg hosted a conversation with the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said COVID-19 will continue to disrupt lives unless the “overwhelming majority” of Americans get the vaccine. Zuckerberg said he planned to show “authoritative” information about the vaccines. 

Two separate vaccines, set to be released from pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and biotech Moderna, appear to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19. While the U.S. awaits their approval, the UK has already approved the Pfizer’s vaccine with distribution set to begin next week. 

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