Twitter launches tool to combat vaccine misinformation

Twitter launches tool to combat vaccine misinformation
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Twitter has launched a new tool to combat vaccine misinformation on its platform following intense scrutiny from public health advocates and lawmakers over social media's role in amplifying debunked conspiracy theories. 

When Twitter users search "vaccines" or related terms, they will now receive a message with a link to the Department of Health and Human Services's (HHS) website about vaccines.

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"To make sure you get the best information on vaccinations, resources are available from the US Department of Health & Human Services," the pop-up says with a link to vaccines.gov and the HHS Twitter handle.

"We recently launched a new tool so when someone searches for certain keywords associated with vaccines, a prompt will direct individuals to a credible public health resource," Del Harvey, Twitter's vice president of trust and safety, said in a blog post last Friday
 
The new feature is available on mobile in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Korea.
 
The tool is similar to the pop-up that comes up when people search for terms related to suicide or self-help. Twitter said it hopes to expand the feature to "other important public health issues in the coming months." 
 
The social media giant also will no longer auto-suggest searches that "are likely to direct individuals to non-credible commentary and information about vaccines," according to the blog post.   

A Twitter spokesperson told The Hill in February that “Twitter’s open and real-time nature is a powerful antidote to the spreading of all types of false information."

"We, as a company, should not be the arbiter of truth," the spokesperson said at the time.

An array of social media platforms have been taking action against anti-vaccine misinformation amid the largest measles outbreak the U.S. has seen since it eradicated the disease 19 years ago. The health crisis was caused in part by the rise of the so-called anti-vax movement of people who refuse to vaccine themselves or their children due to untrue conspiracy theories about the side effects.

The platforms have been striking a careful balance as they seek to reduce recommendations of the content but decline to remove it altogether, citing freedom of expression issues. Several of the top companies have said they are focusing on surfacing authoritative sources of medical information. 

There have been at least 839 cases of measles reported in the country this year, more than double the total number from last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The anti-vax movement largely congregates online, and lawmakers, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), have put the onus on social media companies to deal with online misinformation with real-world consequences. 

Instagram last week said it is taking similar steps to crack down on the scourge of misinformation on its platform by launching a "pop-up" that would appear on content containing vaccine-related misinformation.

—Updated at 4:35 p.m.