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Tech giants agree to step-up efforts to counter online vaccine disinformation

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9th November 2020 about a 3 minute read

Facebook, Twitter and Google have pledged to crack down on misinformation around a vaccine for COVID-19.

At a virtual roundtable event at the weekend the government and tech giants agreed new measures to ensure people can access accurate information.

The announcement has been welcomed by health professionals, particularly in the light of positive early results from trials by Pfizer and Biontech which suggest an effective COVID-19 vaccine may be within sight.

During the roundtable, ministers raised concerns about the length of time misleading and false information about potential coronavirus vaccines remains on social media. 

The platforms have now agreed:

  • No user or company should directly profit from COVID-19 mis/disinformation
  • To ensure a timely response to inaccurate contact flagged to them by government
  • To continue to work with public health bodies to ensure authoritative messages about vaccine safety reach as many people as possible
  • To join new policy forums over the coming months to improve responses to misinformation and to prepare for future threats. 

The policy forums are aimed at promoting co-operation between government, social media platforms, public health bodies and academics.

Social media companies could do more

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “COVID disinformation is dangerous and could cost lives. While social media companies are taking steps to stop it spreading on their platforms, there is much more that can be done.

“So I welcome this new commitment from social media giants not to profit from or promote flagged anti-vax content.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock added: “After clean water, vaccination is the most effective public health intervention in the world and has saved countless lives across the globe.

Informed decisions

“We want social media users to have greater access to reliable and scientifically-accurate information on vaccines from trusted sources like the NHS so they can make informed decisions to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

Throughout the pandemic the government’s Counter Disinformation Unit has been developing a picture of the extent, scope and reach of disinformation and woking with online platforms to ensure action is taken. 

In January this year Twitter launched a dedicated COVID-19 search prompt. To date over 160 million people have visited the Twitter COVID-19 curated page over two billion times. 

Vaccine hoax ads banned

Meanwhile Facebook has banned ads that include vaccine hoaxes or discourage people from getting a vaccine. The platform also puts warning labels over posts marked as false by third party fact checkers. 

  On November 16 Future Care Capital is holding a Getting Public Health Communication Right webinar. The event (from 4-5pm) will hear from experts on lessons to be learnt from the start of the pandemic and the first UK-wide lockdown. Details on how to register are available here