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Health

Anti-Vaxxer Propaganda Is Dominating Social Media Searches, Report Finds


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Vaccines are lifesaving and help promote global health. Research found social networking websites expose users to anti-vaccination misinformation. You can join us in taking action on this issue here

Facebook and YouTube are directing users to anti-vaxxer misinformation, although both websites said that they are working to prevent the spread of this propaganda, the Guardian reports.

Both websites have long struggled with misinformation, “fake news,” and bigotry, and this latest development puts people’s lives at risk, according to scientists.

Take Action: Encourage South Africans to Prioritise Child Health and #VaxTheNation

The anti-vaxxer movement is built on the idea that vaccines cause autism and brain disorders, even though there is no scientific evidence supporting that claim. 

In reality, the CDC estimates that more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years will be prevented because of vaccinations. Research shows an estimated 1.4 million children under 5 worldwide still die each year due to lack of access to vaccines.

When parents do not vaccinate their children it also harms the population around them, by lowering “herd immunity,” which thwarts outbreaks.  

Anti-vaccination information is especially harmful at the moment. On Wednesday, Washington State declared a state of emergency as a measles outbreak continues to spread.

Nita Bharti, assistant professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University, told The Daily Beast there is only one way to prevent the infectious viral disease from spreading.

“There’s nothing in our toolbox that’s better than vaccines,” she said.

In order to see how users stumble upon anti-vaccination information, The Guardian set up two brand new Facebook and YouTube accounts that wouldn’t be influenced by past searches. They found that searches for “vaccine” yielded anti-vaccine misinformation, directing users to search terms like “vaccine truth movement” and “vaccine resistance movement.” 

Read More: Everything You Need to Know About the Anti-Vaxxer Movement

Technically, anti-vaccination posts do not violate Facebook’s rules for content. But Facebook does allow anti-vaccination groups to advertise on the social networking platform. 

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“We have more to do, and will continue efforts to connect people with educational information on important topics like health,” Facebook spokeswoman, Andrea Vallone, said in a statement. 

A YouTube spokesman told the Guardian that their website does try to monitor anti-vaccination videos, categorizing them under “content that could misinform users in harmful ways.”

The internet is a breeding ground for anti-vaccination material. The Royal Society for Public Health conducted a study and found that half of all parents with small children were exposed to misinformation about vaccines on social media.

If social networking platforms don’t act fast to monitor anti-vaccination posts, the consequences could be severe. In January, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a list of 10 threats of the biggest global health threats. In the report, the WHO warned that the anti-vaxxer movement could stall, if not sabotage, the overall progress the world has made on reducing cases of preventable diseases.