Thursday, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management Monika Bickert announced that the platform will begin to tackle the problem of anti-vaccine misinformation that was previously allowed to flourish on the website.
Facebook will no longer allow paid advertisements that promote lies or misleading statements about vaccines, nor will they further allow advertisers to target users based on their interest in “vaccine controversies.” Facebook’s decision to move against these dangerous lies from fringe sources comes after similar policy changes from YouTube and Pinterest.
The company’s decision to work against this content has long been anticipated. After a measles outbreak first rocked Clark County, Washington, many began to recognize the real danger of continuing to allow for the spread of anti-vaxxer misinformation. California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff penned a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding he answer for his platform’s use as a tool for dangerous lies about vaccines. Then, this week, an 18-year-old testified before the Ohio Senate that he was not inoculated after his mother fell into a pit of medical mistruths on the social network.
I’ve received official responses from @Google and @Facebook re: steps the companies will take to combat anti-vaccine misinformation.
The ultimate test will be if these measures reduce the spread of anti-vaccine content on their platforms, to the benefit of public health.
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 7, 2019
Bickert, who, in a recent Vanity Fair piece, was called one of the few people “with real power to dictate free-speech norms for the entire world,” has long been a target for journalists who have realized just how much garbage is allowed to be propagated through Facebook, and for good reason. There is overwhelming consensus among medical communities that vaccines are utterly necessary, and yet a handful of unreliable sources have been allowed to use Facebook to spread lies for years. Although Bickert’s Facebook’s speech policies can seem weird, frustrating and, at times, downright dangerous, the decision to push back against anti-vaxxer myths feels like a rare step that we can all agree is in the right direction.