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March 07, 2019

Facebook takes first steps to combat anti-vaxxing movement

Social media company pledges to take action against groups pushing vaccine misinformation

Facebook is taking its first steps to mitigate the spread of vaccine misinformation as measles and mumps outbreaks continue to grab headlines across the United States.

The social media company announced on Thursday a series of efforts that it says will combat erroneous claims about vaccinations.

Facebook pledged to take action against any vaccine hoaxes identified by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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If a Facebook group or page posts such misinformation, Facebook pledged to exclude the entire group or page from its recommendations and reduce its distribution in site's News Feed and Search functions.

The company also plans to reject any advertisements that include vaccine misinformation. Ad accounts that continue to violate this policy may be disabled.

Restrictions also will occur on the Facebook-owned Instagram, which will no longer show or recommend content displaying vaccine misinformation on its Explore and Hashtag pages.

Additionally, Facebook pledged to explore new ways to share factual information about vaccines when people encounter misinformation.

"We are exploring ways to give people more accurate information from expert organizations about vaccines at the top of results for related searches, on Pages discussing the topic, and on invitations to join groups about the topic," Monika Bickert, Facebook's vice president of global policy management, explained in Facebook's online announcement. "We will have an update on this soon."


The announcement came days after a study confirmed that there is no link between autism and the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella. Researchers studied more than 650,000 Danish children from 1999 through 2010. They found that children who were vaccinated were not more susceptible to autism than those who were not.

Still, some parents resist vaccinating their children for a variety of reasons – some based on misinformation pushed by the anti-vaccination movement. Lawmakers in 20 states, including Pennsylvania, have filed legislation this year to expand non-medical exemptions for vaccinations.

Meanwhile, measles outbreaks continue to pop up across the country. Through February, 206 individual measles cases had been confirmed in 11 states, including New Jersey, according to the CDC. That total already is the fourth-highest in the last 10 years. There were 372 confirmed cases last year.

In recent weeks, a number of mumps cases have been reported at Temple University campuses in North Philadelphia and Ambler, Montgomery County.

Measles can only be prevented by getting the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella). One dose of the vaccine is good for about 93 percent protection against measles. A second booster dose helps to improve that effectiveness of the measles vaccine to more than 97 percent. It is recommended that all children get the vaccine.

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