Facebook said on Monday that it plans to remove posts with erroneous claims about vaccines from across its platform, including taking down assertions that vaccines cause autism or that it is safer for people to contract Covid-19 than to receive the vaccinations.
The social network has increasingly changed its content policies over the past year as the coronavirus has surged. In October, the social network prohibited people and companies from purchasing advertising that included false or misleading information about vaccines. In December, Facebook said it would remove posts with claims that had been debunked by the World Health Organization or government agencies.
Monday’s move goes further by targeting unpaid posts to the site and particularly Facebook pages and groups. Instead of targeting only misinformation around Covid vaccines, the update encompasses false claims around all vaccines. Facebook said it consulted with the World Health Organization and other leading health institutes to determine a list of false or misleading claims around Covid and vaccines in general.
In the past, Facebook had said it would only “downrank,” or push lower down in people’s News Feeds, misleading or false claims about vaccines, making it more difficult to find such groups or posts. Now posts, pages and groups containing such falsehoods will be removed from the platform entirely.
“Building trust and confidence in these vaccines is critical, so we’re launching the largest worldwide campaign to help public health organizations share accurate information about Covid-19 vaccines and encourage people to get vaccinated as vaccines become available to them,” Kang-Xing Jin, head of health at Facebook, said in a company blog post.
The company said the changes were in response to a recent ruling from the Facebook Oversight Board, an independent body that reviews decisions made by the company’s policy team and rules on whether they were just. In one ruling, the board said that Facebook needed to create a new standard for health-related misinformation because its current rules were “inappropriately vague.”
Facebook also said it would give $120 million in advertising credits to health ministries, nongovernmental organizations and United Nations agencies to aid in spreading reliable Covid-19 vaccine and preventive health information. As vaccination centers roll out more widely, Facebook said it would help point people to locations where they can receive the vaccine.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, has been proactive against false information related to the coronavirus. He has frequently hosted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, on Facebook to give live video updates on the American response to Covid. In his private philanthropy, Mr. Zuckerberg has also vowed to “eradicate all disease,” pledging billions to fighting viruses and other sicknesses.
Yet Mr. Zuckerberg has also been a staunch proponent of free speech across Facebook and was previously reluctant to rein in most falsehoods, even if they were potentially dangerous. The exception has been Facebook’s policy to not tolerate statements that could lead to “immediate, direct physical harm” to people on or off the platform.
Facebook has been criticized for that stance, including for allowing President Donald J. Trump to remain on the platform until after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
For years, public health advocates and outside critics took issue with Facebook’s refusal to remove false or misleading claims about vaccines and for leaving anti-vaccination groups untouched. That led to a surge in false vaccine information, often from people or groups who spread other harmful misinformation across the site. Even when Facebook tried updating its policies, it often left loopholes that were exploited by misinformation spreaders.
Facebook on Monday said it would also change its search tools to promote relevant, authoritative results on Covid and vaccine-related information, while making it more difficult to find accounts that discourage people from getting vaccinated.