Facebook Pro-Vaccine Push Backfires

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Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, had a plan to encourage Facebook users to get the Covid-19 vaccine. According to an article by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Zuckerberg released a statement on his own Facebook page in mid-March writing that he wanted to use Facebook’s resources to push 50 million people towards getting the vaccine. 

Mr. Zuckerberg’s goal didn’t go according to plan. According to The Wall Street Journal, nearly 41% of the comments on English-language, vaccine-related posts contained anti-vaccine rhetoric. An international Facebook memo said that the mass amount of anti-vaccine comments could influence users to see the vaccine negatively.  

Even verified and authoritative sources regarding the vaccine were swarmed with comments questioning the safety and legitimacy of the vaccine. Due to free speech grounds, Mr. Zuckerberg initially allowed these posts but has since changed his position due to rising violence associated with antisemitism on the platform. 

As anti-vaccine advocates gained traction on the platform, Facebook rolled out a memo in March 2021. Mr. Rosen, vice president of integrity at the company, claimed in the memo that Facebook would attempt to put measures in place to combat anti-vaccine content, as it “has the potential to cause severe societal harm.”  

Unicef was one of several health groups that expressed concern over the large amount of anti-vaccine comments on their pro-vaccine Facebook posts. A Unicef staffer reportedly said, “Who knows how much more successful those campaigns might be if they weren’t swarmed by anti-vax comments?” 

Research on the origins of the anti-vaccine posts and comments revealed that much of the content came from the same small pool of people. Facebook limited comments per hour on authorized health care posts from 300 per hour down to only 13 per hour. The limiting of comments was in the hopes that the leading players involved in anti-vaccine posting would have less opportunity to infiltrate authoritative posts. 

Mr. Zuckerberg has historically claimed to limited Facebook’s intervention on controversial content, maintaining that the platform doesn’t take sides. But throughout the pandemic, Mr. Zuckerberg has been clear in his support for the vaccine and his attempts to use Facebook as a medium to promote Covid vaccination. This is part of Mr. Zuckerberg’s ethos for Facebook as a “force for social good in the world.”  

Facebook reportedly removed 20 million items in August that violated its Covid policies. Despite the company’s efforts, anti-vaccine advocates are still using the platform to spread their concerns.  

Are these measures a damper on free speech, or is it Facebook’s ethical duty to prevent the spread of misinformation? The debate continues. 

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