Pandemics, anti-microbial resistance and high-threat pathogens all make sense when you think about threats to world health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these are three of the 10 most significant threats to public health. What’s more surprising — vaccine hesitancy appears alongside these as one of the most significant health challenges facing the world to date.
Many believe the abundance of vaccine misinformation found online, especially through social media platforms, is largely to blame and they are asking big technology companies to be accountable for what appears on their platforms.
Big technology has recently come under fire for their responsibility in the content that appears on their sites as, Parentology , reported earlier this year. Now, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp are all being charged with contributing to the gross amount of misinformation being put out by anti-vaccination groups. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports, “Between 10% to 15% of parents choose to delay or refuse one or more recommended vaccines for their children.” Anti-vaccination groups are believed to be the main contributor to the rise in this number.
Not all anti-vaccination groups are out to spread misinformation. But there are some who are aggressively using bots and social media to get their message out, whether based on medical fact or not.
The American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) released findings that legitimized this theory in 2018 finding that, “Health-related misconceptions, misinformation, and disinformation spread over social media, posing a threat to public health.”
What’s viewed as a larger problem is the inability to control the spread of such misinformation. AJPH continues, “Despite significant potential to enable dissemination of factual information, social media are frequently abused to spread harmful health content, including unverified and erroneous information about vaccines.” Critics believe it’s the responsibility of big tech to step in and regulate.
Companies like Facebook and Twitter are aware of the problem and have taken steps to regulate inaccurate content. Bot-driven campaigns, though, can slip through the cracks or simply be re-invented to get around the latest parameters.
Opponents of the bot-driven campaigns are demanding big tech companies take significant and thorough measures to ensure their platforms aren’t aiding in creating what many deem a public health crisis.
Good or bad, social media is a main source of information for parents regarding vaccines. The same AAP study also demonstrated the effect social media had on parents’ decision to vaccinate when a pro-vaccine message was distributed.
“We found that a web-based, social media intervention administered outside of the physician’s office can effectively improve childhood vaccine acceptance among pregnant women.”
The platform is powerful and being utilized to influence parents and ultimately public health. Until technology companies can control the spread of misinformation, parents should examine the true source of their information.