Key doctors group presses tech to crack down on anti-vaccine misinformation

Key doctors group presses tech to crack down on anti-vaccine misinformation
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The largest association of doctors in the U.S. on Wednesday pressed the country's leading tech companies to crack down on anti-vaccine misinformation spread on their platforms. 

The American Medical Association (AMA) in letters to Amazon, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube wrote that social media companies have the responsibility to provide users with "scientifically valid information on vaccinations." 

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AMA's executive vice president, James Madara, wrote in the letters that medical professionals are "troubled" by reports indicating that users are being inundated with anti-vaccine messages when they search for vaccine-related content. 

"At a time when vaccine-preventable diseases, particularly measles, are reemerging in the United States and threatening communities and public health, physicians across the country are troubled by reports of anti-vaccine related messages and advertisements targeting parents searching for vaccine information on your platforms," Madara wrote. 

The letter comes as many of the tech giants grapple with anti-vaccine content on their platforms, an issue that has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers and leading health organizations. 

Many public health advocates say the spread of anti-vaccine social media content contributed to the recent measles outbreak, which comes two decades after the U.S. was declared to have eliminated measles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday confirmed 228 cases of measles in 12 states so far this year. 

"With public health on the line and with social media serving as a leading source of information for the American people, we urge you to do your part to ensure that users have access to scientifically valid information on vaccinations, so they can make informed decisions about their families’ health," Madara wrote.

Facebook last week announced that it is taking steps to limit the circulation of anti-vaccine content on its platform. The company says it will no longer promote anti-vaccine groups and pages in search results, and will not surface them in users' newsfeeds. Facebook-owned Instagram's search and "explore" features will also no longer promote posts that spread anti-vaccine content. 

The company said it is now exploring options to share more medically sound information about vaccines with its users. 

Meanwhile, Amazon has been quietly taking down anti-vaccine documentaries and books, though it has not announced a larger plan to address the issue.

YouTube has been unrolling a plan to discourage users from falling down conspiracy theory "rabbit holes" on the platform, announcing that it will no longer recommend or highlight videos that promote misinformation on topics including vaccines. The video-sharing platform said earlier this month that it will no longer allow channels that promote anti-vaccine misinformation to run advertisements. 

"We applaud companies that have already taken action but encourage you to continue evaluating the impact of these policies and take further steps to address the issue as needed," Madara wrote.