As the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine continues in the US, some lawmakers are concerned that ongoing disinformation and disinformation campaigns are exacerbating hesitation about vaccines. Now two senators are turning their attention to the superspreaders of vaccine misinformation that are pushing the bulk of conspiracy theories and lies on social media – and are asking the social media giants to take more aggressive action.
"Social media platforms have for too long failed to adequately protect Americans by taking insufficient action to prevent the spread of vaccine misinformation online," Sens wrote. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) in a Friday letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, which was viewed by Recode. "Despite your policies designed to prevent vaccine disinformation, many of these accounts continue to post content that reaches millions of users, repeatedly violating your policies with impunity."
In particular, the senators urged the companies to take action against 12 anti-vaccine influencers – 11 individuals and a couple – who distribute anti-vaccine content on the Internet. These accounts include Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has mistrust in vaccines fueled, and Joseph Mercola, a proponent of online alternative medicine who was recently flagged by the Food and Drug Administration for promoting fake Covid-19 treatments, also through his still active Twitter account
These 12 entities were identified in a report published last month by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit that focuses on online hatred and misinformation. To find these 12 influencers, researchers identified 10 private and 20 public anti-vaccine Facebook groups, whose sizes ranged between 2,500 and 235,000 members. The researchers then analyzed links posted in these groups and tracked the sources of their links.
They found that up to 73 percent of that content, including posts shared on Facebook, came from websites affiliated with these 12 super spreaders, who have built a reputation in the online anti-vaccination world through multiple accounts on various social media services. More generally, up to 65 percent of the anti-vaccine content identified by the researchers on both Facebook and Twitter appeared to come from these entities. At the time of the report's publication in March, nine of these super spreaders were active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
In their Friday letter, the senators asked for more details on how the platforms moderate content, and for an explanation of why the content shared by these 12 super spreaders may or may not violate the rules of Facebook and Twitter. The senators also sought more information about the companies' investments in content moderation for colored communities, rural communities and non-English-speaking communities, noting that some of the content posted by the 12 superspreaders “is aimed at black and Latino communities – vaccine messages. "
In response to the pandemic and vaccine rollout, Facebook and Twitter have changed their approach to content moderation and misinformation health. Facebook, which also owns Instagram, has banned misinformation about the vaccine against and misinformation about Covid-19 that could lead to "imminent physical harm," and the company says it will more than 12 million pieces of content that exceed this threshold. Facebook also has executed investigation into vaccine-hesitant comments about his service. Twitter has one two-pronged approach of removing the most harmful vaccine misinformation and tagging other misleading tweets.
In general, these approaches focused on individual pieces of content, not the broader behavior of particular influencers on the Internet. That means superspreaders of vaccine misinformation have more room to spread suspicion without necessarily sharing outright false claims about vaccines. Instead, they can promote "freedom of health" to encourage people not to get vaccinated, present vaccine news in a misleading light, use social media to link to misleading claims on their own websites, and simply ask questions to be in doubt to sow.
Open source is powered by Omidyar Network. All open source content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.