Facebook, Twitter and Google are working with a coalition of governments, including the UK and Canada, to fight misinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding Covid vaccines.
Formed by the British fact-checking charity Full Fact, the new task force will aim to set cross-platform standards for tackling misinformation, as well as how to hold organizations accountable for not doing so.
“Bad information ruins lives and we all have a responsibility to fight it where we see it,” said Will Moy, CEO of Full Fact. “The coronavirus pandemic and the wave of false claims that followed demonstrated the need for a collective approach to this problem.
“A coronavirus vaccine is now potentially only a few months away. But misinformation could undermine confidence in medicine when it matters most and ultimately prolong this pandemic. “
In addition to the three technology companies, the association includes the UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Office of the Privy Council of Canada, fact-checkers from South Africa, India, Argentina and Spain, the Reuters Institute for the Estudio del Periodismo, and the non-profit journalism organization First Draft.
Initial financial support comes from Facebook, which will help Full Fact draft the initial framework for January 2021. The two companies have a history together: Full Fact was the UK’s first fact-checking partner for the anti-disinformation program. From Facebook.
“Working together to address misinformation is really important, especially negative content about the Covid-19 pandemic right now,” said Keren Goldshlager, director of integrity partnerships at Facebook. “We have seen great value in partnering with more than 80 independent fact-checkers globally to combat misinformation in 60 languages.
“We welcome this effort to bring together more technology companies, fact-checkers, researchers, and governments to discuss and develop new strategies, so that we can work together even more effectively in the future.”
Vaccine misinformation has long been a challenge for social media, even before the imminent introduction of a Covid vaccine made the problem more urgent. For years, Facebook freely allowed anti-vaccination content, even as its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, spearheaded a $ 3 billion charitable effort to “cure all diseases.” In March 2019, it gave in slightly and banned anti-vax ads that included misinformation about vaccines; In October of this year, it went further and banned all anti-vax advertising except those with a political message.
But “organic content” – publications and anti-vaccine groups – is still allowed. Misinformation in that category is not explicitly prohibited, although it is eligible to be flagged for review by external fact-checkers.
YouTube has also recently started to crack down on vaccine misinformation. In October, a week after Facebook’s policy change, Google’s video-sharing site announced a ban on misinformation about Covid vaccines specifically. Under the policy, the videos cannot contain false accusations that a Covid vaccine would kill people or cause infertility, or claim that it would somehow implant microchips in recipients.
The latest actions come after the UK Labor Party called for sanctions against social media companies that fail to “remove dangerous vaccine content.”