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Postcards and laundromat visits: The Texas Tribune audience team experiments with IRL distribution
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Feb. 9, 2021, 2:38 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Hanaa' Tameez   |   February 9, 2021

On Monday, Facebook said it would take down false information about vaccines in general, Covid-19, and the Covid-19 vaccine, and would move to support vaccination campaigns around the world.

The company said:

In addition to sharing reliable information, we are expanding our efforts to remove false claims on Facebook and Instagram about Covid-19, Covid-19 vaccines and vaccines in general during the pandemic. Today, following consultations with leading health organizations, including the WHO, we’re expanding the list of false claims we will remove to include additional debunked claims about Covid-19 and vaccines. Learn more about how we’re combating Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation.

Facebook had already taken some steps to remove Covid-19 misinformation from the platform. It had said in December that it would remove some false claims about vaccines, and ads that make false claims about vaccines are not allowed. Under the new policy, the company will remove — not just downrank — unpaid posts on the site, in groups, and on Pages and will remove misinformation about all types of vaccines.

Facebook’s other promises include:

  • Helping people find where and when they can get vaccinated — similar to how we helped people find information about how to vote during elections
  • Giving $120 million in ad credits to help health ministries, NGOs and UN agencies reach billions of people around the world with COVID-19 vaccine and preventive health information
  • Providing data to inform effective vaccine delivery and educational efforts to build trust in COVID-19 vaccines

In January, Facebook’s Oversight Board overturned Facebook’s decision to remove a post that criticized a public health strategy in France and claimed that there was a cure for the coronavirus; the board ruled that Facebook’s standards for removing such posts were “inappropriately vague.” The move this week appears to be Facebook’s attempt to clarify its standards — and make clear more forcefully that anti-vaxxers aren’t welcome.

Facebook’s latest move raises questions about what will qualify as misinformation now. For example, early on in the pandemic, the United States’ leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci advised Americans against wearing masks because there was a shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers coming in direct contact with the virus. When it was understood that the virus could be spread by asymptomatic people, then Fauci advised people to wear masks. Would posts with those initial comments now be deleted?

Also, despite Facebook’s claims of greater transparency, we still don’t know just how far-reaching misinformation about vaccines and Covid-19 actually are, because Facebook doesn’t release that data.

Most of all, it begs the question: why didn’t Facebook do this sooner?

On Monday, The Guardian reported that conspiracy theory accounts were still surfacing in searches on Instagram.

In my own search on Instagram, the first non-verified account is one that posts about adverse reactions to the Covid-19 vaccine. It has more than 87,000 followers.

Clicking on the #covidvaccine hashtag led to this prompt:

Selecting “See Posts Anyway” shows photos of people getting their vaccines or photos of vaccination cards.

Read the new policy here.

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