Facebook to take down false Covid-19 vaccine claims

7:25 am on 4 December 2020

Facebook says it will start removing false claims about Covid-19 vaccines to prevent "imminent physical harm".

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND - OCTOBER 21, 2014: Facebook application sign in page on smartphone and facebook logo on background.

Photo: 123RF

The company says it is accelerating its plans to ban misleading and false information on its Facebook and Instagram platforms following the announcement of the first vaccine being approved for use, in the United Kingdom.

Among already-debunked claims that won't be allowed are falsehoods about vaccine ingredients, safety, effectiveness and side-effects.

Also banned will be the long-running false conspiracy theory that coronavirus vaccines will contain a microchip to control or monitor patients.

Facebook has come under fire for what's been seen as a patchy approach to fake news and false claims, and misleading content about the pandemic is still widely available on its platforms.

What did Facebook say?

It says it will remove false claims about Covid-19 vaccines "that have already been debunked by public health experts".

Facebook says that since January it has been removing content about the pandemic, such as false cures and treatments or claims that the disease doesn't exist at all.

In October, it banned advertisements that discouraged people from taking vaccines.

This is a continuation of the policy "to remove misinformation about the virus that could lead to imminent physical harm", the company said.

"This could include false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines [and] false claims that Covid-19 vaccines contain microchips, or anything else that isn't on the official vaccine ingredient list.

"We will also remove conspiracy theories about Covid-19 vaccines that we know today are false."

However, Facebook warned that these policies, which the BBC understands have been brought forward following the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by the British medicines regulator, will take some time to come into effect.

"We will not be able to start enforcing these policies overnight," a Facebook statement said.

What response has there been?

While Facebook's announcement has been broadly welcomed, there are concerns that the company might not follow through on its promises.

Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said in a statement: "Today's policy change is long overdue, but there is no guarantee that it will be properly enforced."

"As we saw in the months following Facebook's promise to remove misinformation about coronavirus earlier this year, they rarely enforce their own policies".

Mr Ahmed went on to urge governments to accelerate plans to regulate harmful online content. "They must introduce tough regulations as soon as possible to ensure these policies are enforced, including criminal sanctions for breaches of their duty to remove harmful material that puts lives at risk."

The UK government has been planning an Online Harms Bill for this very purpose, but it has been criticised over "unacceptable" delays in its publication, while Jo Stevens, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, called for emergency legislation "to protect people from this dangerous disinformation".


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