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Attorney General Healey calls on Facebook, Twitter to stop spread of vaccine disinformation

BOSTON – Attorney General Maura Healey today joined a coalition of 12 attorneys general 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 sent today, AG Healey urges both leaders to immediately and fully enforce company guidelines against vaccine disinformation.

“Facebook and Twitter should be doing everything they can to help our nation fight the COVID-19 pandemic that has devastated our communities and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people,” said AG Healey. “Instead, they are failing to prevent the spread of deadly lies from anti-vaxxers and undermining our efforts to effectively fight this virus. We call on Facebook and Twitter to immediately to do the right thing, follow their own guidelines, and stop amplifying dangerous disinformation on their platforms.”

According to the letter, signed by 12 attorneys general, the availability of safe and effective vaccines means the end of this deadly pandemic is in sight. However, the ability to administer vaccines quickly and limit further loss of life depends on broad public acceptance of those 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 that have already suffered the worst health impacts of the virus and whose vaccination rates are already lagging.

The letter cites specific examples where Facebook and Twitter have failed to enforce their existing guidelines, including:

-Failure to Remove Anti-Vaxxers from their Platforms: 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, just 12 anti-vaxxers’ personal accounts and their associated organizations, groups and websites are responsible for 65 percent of public anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

-Failure to Consistently Apply Misinformation Labels: 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.

-Allowing Anti-Vaxxers to Skirt Misinformation Polices: 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 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.

The letter was joined by AG Maura Healey and led by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and joined by the attorneys general of Delaware, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

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