Evaluating the Impact of Facebook's Ban on Vaccine Misinformation

Evaluating the Impact of Facebook's Ban on Vaccine Misinformation

February 22, 20212 min read

A new Facebook policy has banned misinformation about all vaccines on its platform. Villanova University professor Jie Xu, PhD, who specializes in science and health communication, examined this decision.

"On one hand, there clearly is a lot of mis/disinformation on social media regarding vaccines; some of them are simply uninformed and, of course, harmful to public health," said Dr. Xu. "On the other hand, many details relating to the COVID-19 vaccine, in my view, are still open to scientific debate."

So, what determines what is labelled misinformation? Dr. Xu believes this is a complicated determination.

"Science itself is evolving with falsification and revision to previous claims when new evidence comes in," Dr. Xu noted. "Who is to say that some claims deemed true at this moment won't be overturned in the future? What are the standards to be used in defining what is true information or misinformation? And perhaps more importantly, who are the 'fact-checkers' that are considered trustworthy to the majority of Americans?"

However, there are some benefits to Facebook's decision.

"On a more positive note, there is some preliminary evidence indicating that labeling misinformation on social media may help to alleviate the negative influence of vaccine misinformation claims," Dr. Xu said. "The challenge is that the people that are most susceptible to misinformation, and those that health professionals really want to reach out to, are the ones that have the least level of trust on this type of intervention. In some corners, this will likely to be viewed as violation to free speech and perhaps backfire."

How does Facebook's banning align with free speech?

"My understanding of free speech is that it's not that we don't pay a price for it—unless it's inciting violence, most information has been allowed to flow relatively freely—but it's that the alternative could be much worse," said Dr. Xu. "At the end of the day, we need to create an environment in which honest, open and critical conversations are welcomed, and we do need each other to find the truth."

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