Pinterest blocks all vaccine-related searches in effort to combat anti-vax content

Pinterest has blocked all vaccine-related searches on the social media platform in an effort to combat the “misleading content” of the anti-vaccination movement, a spokesperson said Wednesday.

Speaking in an appearance on CNBC, a spokesman for the online pinboard said it implemented the ban on the searches until it can come up with a more permanent strategy to tackle content attempting to discredit vaccinations. 

"We want Pinterest to be an inspiring place for people, and there's nothing inspiring about misinformation," a Pinterest spokesperson said. "That's why we continue to work on new ways of keeping misleading content off our platform and out of our recommendations engine."

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Some of the most shared images on Pinterest related to vaccinations contradicted established medical consensus which shows they are safe to use, Pinterest told The Wall Street Journal.

"It’s better not to serve those results than to lead people down what is like a recommendation rabbit hole,” said Ifeoma Ozoma, Pinterest’s public policy and social impact manager. 

The Journal, which first reported the ban, found that vaccine-related images are still showing up on the online boards although they will no longer turn up in search results.

The ban on vaccine-related content comes amid a measles outbreak across New York, Washington and Texas predominately amid communities with higher populations of unvaccinated people.

The outbreak has especially hit Clark County, Wash., which has been dubbed an anti-vaccination “hot spot." There have been 62 confirmed cases of measles in the county as of Tuesday, predominately among those were are not immunized against the infection. 

This is not the first time the platform blocked questionable content, CNBC noted. It began an initiative last year to block the promotion of false cancer treatments under searches for “cancer cures.”

Some content was discouraging users from getting traditional medical treatment and, for example, steering them toward essential oils as a cure.

The visual social media network, which allows people to pin images to a virtual pinboard, reported an estimated 250 million users every month as of September.

Pinterest’s move to comment publicly about its vaccination policy comes days after Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse passes annual intelligence bill Judge finds Stone violated gag order, blocks him from using social media The peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Facebook and Google expressing concern about their platforms recommending anti-vaccination information. 

“As a Member of Congress who is deeply concerned about declining vaccination rates, I am requesting additional information on the steps that you currently take to provide medically accurate information on vaccinations to your users, and to encourage you to consider additional steps you can take to address this growing problem,” Schiff wrote to CEOs Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergMaxine Waters says her committee will call in Zuckerberg to testify about Libra Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp House asks Facebook: 'What is Libra?' MORE and Sundar Pichai. 

YouTube, which is run by Google, said last month that they would work to recommend fewer videos with misinformation. 

Facebook told The Hill that the company is taking steps to limit the spread of misinformation on the platform.

“We are committed to accurate and useful information throughout Facebook. We remove content that violates our Community Standards, downrank articles that might be misleading, and show third-party fact-checker articles to provide people with more context," a spokesman said last week. 

"We have more to do, and will continue efforts to provide educational information on important topics like health,” he added.