Matt Hancock will increase pressure on Facebook to tackle anti-vaccination propaganda after a report showed that almost 60 million people across the UK and US subscribe to such content on the social network.
The UK health secretary will meet Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of global affairs and communications, this week.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the Labour MP Chris Elmore said anti-vaccination content on social media was an “ideological dirty bomb waiting to to go off”, and asked Hancock “to look at putting more investment into tackling these anti-vaxx sites”.
Hancock replied that Elmore’s warnings were “absolutely right”, adding: “He and I are passionately of one voice on this … People who propagate untrue myths about vaccines are putting lives at risk.
“The social media companies have an important responsibility, and they have taken some action already and I pay tribute to them for that. In fact, I have a meeting later this week with Mr Nick Clegg, who is in a position of responsibility with Facebook.”
“It’s not only Facebook and Instagram – who have taken action, but we’ll be discussing what more action can be taken to make sure that people who are propagating lies about vaccines do not manage to spread those lies.”
A report titled The Anti-Vaxx Industry, published by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, found that one in six Britons were unsure whether they would have a coronavirus vaccine if one was available, a figure the group attributed to a sharp increase in anti-vaccination content.
“When he meets Nick Clegg, the Health Secretary needs to tell Facebook to enforce their own terms of service and remove anti-vaxx accounts on its platform with millions of followers, many of which exist to sell unproven or even dangerous false cures,” said Imran Ahmed, the chief executive of the organisation.
“He should also ask why Facebook has broken its promises not to profit from anti-vaxx by accepting paid adverts promoting anti-vaccine misinformation as recently as this week. There is strong public support for action on tech giants that spread anti-vaccine misinformation: 83 percent back financial penalties and two-thirds support criminal charges.”
In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We are working to stop harmful misinformation from spreading on our platforms and have removed hundreds of thousands of pieces of Covid-19-related misinformation. We reduce vaccine misinformation in News Feed, we don’t show it in search results or recommend it to you on Facebook or Instagram, we don’t allow it in ads, and we connect people with authoritative information from recognised health experts.”