Schiff presses Amazon over anti-vaccination products

Schiff presses Amazon over anti-vaccination products
© Greg Nash

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCohen says Trump attorney told him to say Trump Tower talks ended earlier than they did Cohen told lawmakers that Trump lawyer Sekulow instructed him to lie about Moscow tower project: report Supreme Court declines to hear case on businesses' political contributions MORE (D-Calif.) on Friday pressed Amazon over popular anti-vaccination products sold on its online store, accusing the retail giant of allowing "harmful" content to "thrive and spread."

Schiff's comments, made in a letter addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, comes amid increasing scrutiny of tech giants over anti-vaccine content spreading on their platforms.

Lawmakers and public health advocates have pressured major companies such as YouTube and Facebook to crack down on medical misinformation, which they believe is empowering the anti-vaccine movement of people who do not vaccinate themselves or their children.

"There is strong evidence to suggest that at least part of the source of this trend is the degree to which medically inaccurate information about vaccines surface on the websites where many Americans get their information, among them Amazon," Schiff wrote to Bezos.

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The California Democrat raised concerns about Amazon's algorithms, citing reports that the platform recommends anti-vaccine or vaccine-skeptical books and movies even when people do not actively seek them out.

"As the largest online marketplace in the world, Amazon is in a unique position to shape consumption," Schiff wrote. "Yet the algorithms which power social media platforms and Amazon’s recommendations are not designed to distinguish quality information from misinformation or misleading information and, as a result, harmful anti-vaccine messages have been able to thrive and spread." 

Schiff noted that the bulk of Amazon's best-selling and top-rated books in the "vaccines" category promote anti-vaccine messaging.

Amazon's bookselling guidelines do not specify how to handle the spread of misinformation that poses a public health risk.

A company spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that Amazon has received Schiff's letter and is reviewing it.

Various major online sites have taken steps to curb anti-vaccine content on their platforms.

Pinterest recently announced that it would not return results for vaccine-related searches.

YouTube also announced it will demonetize videos that promote misinformation about vaccines and pledged to stop recommending those videos to users.

Facebook has said it is reviewing its options. 

Schiff last month called out Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the issue, writing that he was concerned YouTube, Instagram and Facebook are "surfacing and recommending messages that discourage parents from vaccinating their children, a direct threat to public health, and reversing progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Now, the Democrat is turning his ire toward Amazon. 

"Repetition of information, even if false, can often be mistaken for accuracy, and exposure to anti-vaccine content via your web service may negatively shape user attitudes towards vaccinations," Schiff wrote to Bezos.

He sent multiple questions for Amazon to answer, including whether anti-vaccine content violates the company's terms of service, what actions it is taking to take the content off its platform, and whether it accepts advertising from anti-vaccine groups.

Schiff in 2015 introduced the Vaccines Save Lives resolution, affirming that vaccines are life-saving and a necessity to public health. 

"As more Americans rely on your services as their primary source of information, it is vital that you take that responsibility with the seriousness it requires, and nowhere more so than in matters of public health and children’s health," Schiff wrote.