RICHMOND – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 12 attorneys general in calling on Facebook and Twitter to take stronger measures to stop the spread of anti-vaxxer coronavirus disinformation on their social media platforms. In letters to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues urge both CEOs to immediately and fully enforce company guidelines against vaccine misinformation to prevent needless infection and death and to hasten our road to recovery.
“The only way that we will be able to get back to normal as a country is through widespread use of safe, effective vaccinations, which is why it’s so important that everyone who can be vaccinated is,” said Attorney General Herring. “The spread of misinformation about COVID vaccines over social media sites like Facebook and Twitter could be detrimental to the national effort to end the coronavirus pandemic. Facebook, Twitter and other platforms must take this seriously and enforce their guidelines for restricting or removing disinformation about the COVID vaccine so we can return to normal life as quickly and safely as possible.”
The availability of safe and effective vaccines means the end of the COVID pandemic is in sight. But our ability to do so quickly and limit further loss of life depends on broad public acceptance of these vaccines. False information regarding the safety of coronavirus vaccines by a small number of individuals lacking medical expertise and often motivated by their own financial interests has reached over 59 million followers on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, threatening to undermine vaccine acceptance and harm the nation’s recovery. Anti-vaxxers have used these platforms to disproportionately target people of color and Black Americans specifically—communities who have already suffered the worst health impacts of the virus and whose vaccination rates are already lagging.
The coalition’s letter cites specific examples where Facebook and Twitter have failed to enforce their existing guidelines, including:
- Twitter and Facebook have yet to remove from all their platforms the accounts of prominent anti-vaxxers who have repeatedly violated the companies’ terms of service. Digital media research groups estimate that as of March 10, 12 anti-vaxxers’ personal accounts and their associated organizations, groups and websites are responsible for 65% of public anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
- Facebook has failed to consistently apply misinformation labels and popups on Facebook pages and groups that discuss vaccines or COVID-19. For example, the company neglected to apply warning labels on dozens of Facebook groups that anti-vaxxer Larry Cook created for his followers. At the same time, the company has mistakenly flagged pro-vaccine pages and content in ways that have undermined pro-vaccine public education efforts.
- Facebook has allowed anti-vaxxers to skirt its policy of removing misinformation that health experts have debunked, by failing to prevent them from using video and streaming tools like Facebook Live and sites like Bitchute, Rumble, and Brighteon to evade detection.
The coalition’s letter comes as Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are set to testify Thursday at a joint hearing of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee and the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding social media’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation.
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general