Silicon Valley tech giants begin combatting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

ByMatt Boone KGO logo
Thursday, December 17, 2020
Bay Area tech begins combatting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation
In a blog post Wednesday, San Francisco-based Twitter became the latest social media company to change its policies to combat misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In a blog post Wednesday, Twitter became the latest social media company to issue new policies regarding misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Beginning next week, Twitter said it would begin requiring the removal of tweets that violate several new categories including:

  • False claims that suggest immunizations and vaccines are used to intentionally cause harm to or control populations, including statements about vaccines that invoke a deliberate conspiracy;
  • False claims which have been widely debunked about the adverse impacts or effects of receiving vaccinations; or
  • False claims that COVID-19 is not real or not serious, and therefore that vaccinations are unnecessary.

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Furthermore, starting in early 2021, the blog post said Twitter will begin placing warnings on tweets that may not violate those guidelines but that "advance unsubstantiated rumors, disputed claims, as well as incomplete or out-of-context information about vaccines."

How will this be done? The company says it will use a "combination of technology and human review" to enforce the policy, beginning December 21.

"I think it's very dangerous to put this much power in the hands of tech companies to determine what we should and should not be seeing," said Nolan Higdon, a lecturer at Cal State East Bay who studies misinformation.

Higdon acknowledges that truly false and misleading information on social media is problematic, however, he says allowing a tech company to censor information can backfire.

"These attempts at censorship or trying to hide it or deride it are not going to be successful. What is successful is when you empower people with critical thinking skills or education to be able to analyze content," he said. Facebook announced on Tuesday that it has also updated policies on COVID-19 misinformation.

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People who have interacted with posts that have since been removed for violating Facebooks policies will be sent a notification about the post.

"They will also see why it was false and why we removed it," wrote Guy Rosen, Facebook's Vice President of Integrity on their website. "People will then be able to see more facts about COVID-19 in our Coronavirus Information Center, and take other actions such as unfollowing the Page or Groups that shared this content."

"It's like the expression 'closing the barn door after the horses have already gone out,'" remarked Sasha Cuttler, an anti-Facebook activist who has been critical of the company's handling of misinformation.

He is also a registered nurse who has seen firsthand what vaccine misinformation has already done.

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"There are many people, including many nurses, that are afraid of the vaccine because of the misinformation out there," claimed Cuttler.

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