NY, PA attorney generals call for social media companies to block anti-vaxxer disinformation

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A photo taken on October 21, 2020 shows the logo of the the American online social media and social networking service, Facebook and Twitter on a computer screen in Lille. (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP) (Photo by DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images)

(WETM) – New York Attorney General Letitia James and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, as part of a coalition of 12 attorneys general, are calling on Facebook and Twitter “to take stronger measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 vaccine disinformation being spread by anti-vaxxers on their social media platforms.

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the attorney generals urged both CEOs “to immediately and fully enforce company guidelines against vaccine misinformation in an effort to prevent needless infection and death and to hasten America’s road to recovery.”

“The science is clear — this vaccine saves lives, which is why I already received my vaccine and why I encourage all New Yorkers to get their vaccine when eligible,” said Attorney General James. “As we continue to make strides in vaccinating New Yorkers and recovering from the pandemic, it is imperative that every individual has access to this lifesaving vaccine and the science-based facts about it. We must ensure that there are no barriers to individuals receiving their dose, especially those in communities most impacted by the pandemic, including communities of color. Facebook and Twitter must take immediate action to protect New Yorkers and limit any further loss of life as a result of the spread of inaccurate information.”

According to Attorney General James, false information regarding the safety of COVID-19 vaccines by a small number of individuals lacking medical expertise, and often motivated by their own financial interests, has reached over 59 million followers on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter — threatening to undermine vaccine acceptance and harm the nation’s recovery.

Today’s letter cites specific examples where Facebook and Twitter have failed to enforce their existing guidelines, including:

  • Twitter and Facebook have yet to remove from all their platforms the accounts of prominent anti-vaxxers who have repeatedly violated the companies’ terms of service. Digital media research groups estimate that, as of March 10, 2021, 12 anti-vaxxers’ personal accounts and their associated organizations, groups, and websites are responsible for 65 percent of public anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
  • Facebook has failed to consistently apply misinformation labels and pop-ups on its pages and groups that discuss vaccines or COVID-19 generally. For example, the company neglected to apply warning labels on dozens of Facebook groups that anti-vaxxer Larry Cook created for his followers. At the same time, the company has mistakenly flagged pro-vaccine pages and content in ways that have undermined pro-vaccine public education efforts.
  • Facebook has allowed anti-vaxxers to skirt its policy of removing misinformation that health experts have debunked, by failing to prevent them from using video and streaming tools like Facebook Live and sites like Bitchute, Rumble, and Brighteon to evade detection.

Today’s letter comes as Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are set to testify tomorrow at a joint hearing of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee and the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding social media’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation.

Attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia each signed the letter.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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