Facebook froze as anti-vaccine comments swarmed users

Coronavirus

FILE – In this Sept. 23, 2021, file photo, Oumie Nyassi shows a video circulating on the internet and that has been confirmed as fake news of a woman claiming she was magnetized after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, in a doctor’s office at Serrekunda, Gambia hospital. Last spring, as false claims about vaccine safety threatened to undermine the world’s response to COVID-19, researchers at Facebook wrote that they could reduce vaccine misinformation by tweaking how vaccine posts show up on users’ newsfeeds, or by turning off comments entirely. Yet despite internal documents showing these changes worked, Facebook was slow to take action. (AP Photo/Leo Correa, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Last spring, as false claims about vaccine safety threatened to undermine the world’s response to COVID-19, researchers at Facebook found they could reduce vaccine misinformation by tweaking how vaccine posts show up on users’ newsfeeds.

Yet despite evidence that it worked, Facebook took a full month to implement the changes at a pivotal time in the global vaccine rollout. Facebook’s own documents also reveal how comments on posts are a hotbed for anti-vaccine messages.

But when another researcher suggested disabling comments on vaccine posts, that idea was ignored. Those revelations were contained in disclosures by a former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower.

Facebook says it has made “considerable progress” with downgrading vaccine misinformation in users’ feeds.

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