In the United States, five measles outbreaks are underway, and lawmakers are questioning both health officials and tech giants about their efforts to combat harmful anti-vaccine misinformation fueling the spread of the disease.
Last week, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Chair of the Senate Health Committee, accompanied by Senior Official Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health. Human Services. Lawmakers have asked health officials what they are doing to fight misinformation and help states deal with epidemics. "Many factors contribute to vaccine hesitancy, and all require the attention of the CDC and [HHS’ National Vaccine Program Office], Wrote the legislators. On Thursday, February 14th, the committee announced that it will hold a hearing on this subject on March 5th.
Also Thursday, Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) Sent letters to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Schiff expresses concern about the epidemics and the role of technology companies in disseminating medically inaccurate information.
If "worried" parents see false information about the vaccine in their Facebook news feeds or YouTube recommendations, "this could cause them to ignore the advice of their children's doctors and public health experts and not follow the lead. recommended vaccination schedule, "writes Schiff in his two letters. "Repetition of information, even if they are false, can often be confused with accuracy, and exposure to anti-vaccine content via social media can negatively affect the attitude users with regard to vaccination. "
Schiff referred to a recent Guardian article reporting that searches on Facebook and YouTube easily led users to the anti-vaccine trash. He also expressed concern over a report that Facebook would accept payments for anti-vaccine ads. Schiff did not mention the source of the report, but an article published Thursday by the Daily Beast reported that seven Facebook pages displaying and promoting anti-vaccine bunkum targeted women over 25 years old.
In a statement sent by email, a spokesman for Facebook told Ars:
We have taken steps to reduce the spread of misinformation about health on Facebook, but we know we still have a long way to go. We are currently working on additional changes that we will be announcing soon.
Facebook added that removing anti-vaccine prospects is not an effective solution to the problem. Instead, the company is considering ways to increase the availability of factual information about vaccines while minimizing the damage caused by misinformation, although it does not provide details about ideas.
In a statement to Bloomberg, Facebook went a step further, explaining that it was considering "reducing or removing this type of content recommendations, including groups you should join," and downgrading it into search results, while guaranteeing superior and more reliable quality. information is available. "
Facebook told Ars that users can still report objectionable groups, posts, or comments, and that health information is eligible for fact checking.
Google declined to comment on Schiff's letter in particular. However, the company said it was working to improve its referral system and to ensure that credible news sources and contextual information floated to the top of the search results.
Schiff said in his letter that he was pleased that Google had already taken steps to improve the situation, stating: "I was delighted with the recent announcement by YouTube to no longer recommend videos breaking the rules of the community, such inaccurate videos and encourage the taking of new measures regarding misinformation about vaccines. "
So far this year, the CDC has documented more than 100 cases of measles in ten states.
Editor's Note 2/15/19, 2:45 ET: This article has been updated to include Google's response.