Story at a glance:
- The White House cited a study on the top social media accounts that spread anti-vaccine misinformation.
- Facebook has a particular “blindspot” when it comes to moderating Spanish-speaking content.
- Eleven out of the 15 top results regarding vaccines last week were disinformation or anti-vaccination, says a social media watchdog.
Citing a recent study on the 12 individuals and their organizations who are responsible for most of the anti-vaccine misinformation shared on social media, the Biden administration is increasing its scrutiny of social networks and talks of how to combat “superspreader” disinformation accounts.
Referencing the study from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that 12 people “are producing 65 percent of vaccine misinformation on social media” -- a group the study calls The Disinformation Dozen. The accounts have also been referred to as “superspreader” accounts, The Guardian reports.
“Facebook has repeatedly said it is going to take action, but in reality we have seen a piecemeal enforcement of its own community standards where some accounts are taken off Instagram but not Facebook and vice versa,” said Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the CCDH, The Guardian reports. “There has been a systemic failure to address this.”
In their report from March, the CCDH analyzed content posted or shared to social media over 812,000 times between February and March. The nonprofit says its report “uncovers how a tiny group of determined anti-vaxxers is responsible for a tidal wave of disinformation -- and shows how platforms can fix it by enforcing their standards.”
In response, a Facebook spokesperson told The Guardian that the company permanently bans pages, groups, and accounts that “repeatedly break our rules on Covid misinformation,” including “more than a dozen pages, groups, and accounts from these individuals.”
Following the release of the March report, the CCDH says platforms have disciplined a “dozen” members, removing 35 accounts on various social media accounts. These undisclosed accounts have lost 41 percent of their followers, or an estimated 5.8 million, but retained 8.4 million followers and have 62 active accounts, The Guardian reported.
Some anti-vaccine members still have access to channel their misinformation regardless of their accounts getting taken down, experts say. Robert F. Kennedy, a spearheader of anti-vaccine campaigns, is still on Facebook despite getting banned on Instagram, which Facebook owns.
Joseph Mercola, an alternative medicine doctor who has been warned by the Food and Drug Administration to stop selling fake COVID-19 cures, has 1.7 million followers on Facebook. One of his posts, titled "How COVID-19 'Vaccines' May Destroy the Lives of Millions," was shared over 12,000 times, according to the CCDH report, which also cited content Mercola shared saying "forced vaccination is part of the plan to 'reset' the global economy.”
The Guardian also reports that Facebook has a particularly overwhelming blind spot when it comes to Spanish-language content and moderating Spanish-language misinformation posts.
“Facebook needs a much better mechanism to stop the spread of false information about the vaccine, and they need to make sure they’re doing that across languages,” Jessica González, the co-CEO at Free Press, a media equity group, told The Guardian.
According to the social media watchdog Accountable Tech, 11 out of the 15 top results on Facebook regarding vaccines last week were disinformation or anti-vaccine content.
House Rep. Taylor Greene, who is not one of 12 superspreaders, was recently temporarily suspended from Twitter for criticizing the measures against anti-vaccination disformation, saying it is “communism.”
The spread of disinformation comes as the delta variant now accounts for approximately 83 percent of new cases in the U.S., health officials say.
CDC data shows slightly more than 56 percent of the total U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose, while 48.6 percent have been fully vaccinated. Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky said that two-thirds of counties’ vaccination rates fall below 40 percent, allowing for the “emergence and rapid spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.”
Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, also recently criticized social media for spreading misinformation like “wildfire.”
“We know that health misinformation harms people’s health. It costs them their lives. Health misinformation takes away our freedom and our power to make decisions for us and for our families," Murthy said on CNN’s State of the Union.
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