Instagram to block anti-vaccine hashtags amid misinformation crackdown

Instagram to block anti-vaccine hashtags amid misinformation crackdown

Instagram said Thursday it plans to block a slew of anti-vaccine hashtags amid an ongoing crackdown on medical misinformation on the platform.

The company, which is owned by Facebook, shared its plans after media outlets inquired about anti-vaccine misinformation continuing to spread on the social media giant's platforms.

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Facebook three weeks ago unveiled plans to combat anti-vaccine content, including a pledge that it would no longer promote anti-vaccine posts on Instagram's search and "explore" features. 

The Atlantic and CNN on Thursday reported that Facebook and Instagram's search functions still recommend vaccine-related misinformation, including groups and hashtags that associate vaccinations with autism, a claim that scientists and experts have categorically debunked.

"As part of our work to address health-related misinformation on Instagram, we’re looking at ways to minimize recommendations of this content and accounts that post it across Instagram - including in 'Suggested For You', Explore and hashtags," an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday evening. 

The spokesperson said the platform's planned "short-term measures" will include blocking hashtags associated with "known health-related misinformation including #vaccinescauseautism, #vaccinesarepoison, and #vaccinescauseids." 

As of Thursday evening, those hashtags had not yet been blocked.

"We noted that this process would take place over several weeks," an Instagram spokesperson said. "But as we take action in the short-term we know that fighting misinformation is a long-term commitment."

When users click on a blocked Instagram hashtag, they are taken to a page without any results. That hashtag also will not show up in searches.

Lawmakers and public health advocates have been pushing the country's largest social media companies to take stronger action against anti-vaccine content, arguing that the proliferation of medical misinformation has bolstered the movement of people who choose not to vaccinate themselves or their children. 

The recent measles outbreaks in the U.S. are in part due to the increasing number of people not getting vaccinations, and experts warn the movement largely uses social media to promote their views.