A dozen state attorneys general on Wednesday called on Facebook and Twitter to take more aggressive action against conspiracy theories, hoaxes and lies that are undermining public confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines.
“The people and groups spreading falsehoods and misleading Americans about the safety of coronavirus vaccines are threatening the health of our communities, slowing progress in getting our residents protected from the virus, and undermining economic recovery in our states,” the letter from Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and 11 other Democratic state attorneys general said. “We call on you to take immediate steps to fully enforce your companies’ guidelines against vaccine misinformation.”
The letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey also cited research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch showing that a small number of anti-vaccine accounts are responsible for falsehoods about the safety of the vaccines that have reached more than 59 million on Facebook, Instagram, Google’s YouTube and Twitter.
According to the study, 65% of anti-vaccine content on these platforms is tied to 12 individuals or organizations that repeatedly violate the rules of social media platforms.
The letter arrived the day before Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are slated to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on misinformation and disinformation.
“Making certain that reliable, authoritative health information is easily accessible on Twitter has been a priority long before we were in the midst of a global pandemic. Since the beginning of COVID-19, we’ve expanded and increased our investment in those efforts,” the company said in a statement.
Facebook said it has removed millions of pieces of misinformation and labeled more than 167 million pieces of content about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook and Instagram.
“Since research shows that the best way to combat vaccine hesitancy is to connect people to reliable information from health experts, we’ve connected over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities,” the company said in a statement. “We know that conversations about vaccines tend to be nuanced, so we’re continuing to work with health experts to make sure that our approach and our policies are in the right place.”
Tong also flagged concern about falsehoods and misleading social media posts about COVID-19 vaccines that are contributing to lower vaccination rates in the Black and Hispanic communities.
“COVID vaccines only work if people actually get them. Pseudoscience coronavirus conspiracy theories peddled by a small number of uninformed anti-vaxxers have reached tens of millions of social media followers. These posts are in flagrant violation of Facebook and Twitter policies. Facebook and Twitter must fully and immediately enforce their own policies, or risk prolonging this pandemic,” Tong said in a statement.