Washington Post – “It’s still spreading. The social media giants have struggled to find and take down anti-vaccine propaganda. But medical misinformation has thrived on their platforms for years. On YouTube, the accounts of six out of 12 anti-vaccine activists identified by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as being responsible for creating more than half the anti-vaccine content shared on social media are easily searchable and still posting videos. On Facebook, researchers at the left-leaning advocacy group Avaaz ran an experiment in June in an effort to show how anti-vaccine material gets pushed to people. Two brand-new accounts it set up were recommended 109 pages containing anti-vaccine information in just two days. Vaccine rates in the United States have stalled and some cities are reinstituting mask recommendations as coronavirus cases rise again. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued a warning last week that vaccine misinformation spreading online was partly responsible for Americans refusing the vaccines, leading to avoidable deaths and illness. President Biden, too, has laid part of the blame on social media companies.
Researchers agree that social media is playing a role. At the heart of the problem are the companies’ content-recommendation algorithms, which are still generally designed to boost content that engages the most people, regardless of what it is — even conspiracy theories. “For a long time the companies tolerated that because they were like, ‘Who cares if the Earth is flat, who cares if you believe in chemtrails?’ It seemed harmless,” said Hany Farid, a misinformation researcher and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, referring to a long-standing conspiracy theory about airplane condensation trails. “The problem with these conspiracy theories that maybe seemed goofy and harmless is they have led to a general mistrust of governments, institutions, scientists and media, and that has set the stage of what we are seeing now.”