New crackdown by social-media platform against anti-vaxxer content

Hundreds of millions of people wanting to find out about vaccines are to be directed to global public health bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), in a landmark move by Pinterest.

Pintrest is to redirect vaccine searches to to trusted health websites (Pic credit: Rich Polk/Stringer/Getty Images)
Pintrest is to redirect vaccine searches to to trusted health websites (Pic credit: Rich Polk/Stringer/Getty Images)

The social network has brought in a policy that means any of its 300 million users who search for vaccine-related information will get results only from leading public health organisations.

In a statement on its "efforts to combat health misinformation", Ifeoma Ozoma, Pinterest’s public policy and social impact manager, said: "This new search experience only shows content from leading public health institutions – you won’t see any recommendations or comments on Pins in these results. We also won’t show ads."

She added: "We’re taking this approach because we believe that showing vaccine misinformation alongside resources from public health experts isn't responsible."

Helping science fight its corner

Pinterest is also tackling what it describes as the "enthusiasm gap" between anti-vaxxer campaigners and medical experts.

"Generally, there’s more accessible and visually compelling health misinformation than science-based journal articles on the virtues of vaccinations."

Ozoma said: "We’re developing creative resources that health organisations can easily use to create visually compelling Pins for content that’s primarily text-based."

WHO response

The announcement of the new approach was welcomed by WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"Misinformation about vaccines is as contagious and dangerous as the diseases it helps to spread. The WHO welcomes Pinterest’s leadership in protecting public health by only providing evidence-based information about vaccines to its users. We hope to see other social media platforms around the world following Pinterest’s lead," he said.

The danger presented by large numbers of parents not vaccinating their children against childhood diseases has prompted the WHO to list "vaccine hesitancy" as one of the top 10 threats to global health.

Last month the UN agency announced that the UK, Albania, Czechia and Greece have lost their "measles-free" status.

Battling fake news

Mounting concern over health misinformation has prompted several social-media companies to crack down on it in recent months.

In February, YouTube announced that it would stop running ads on channels promoting anti-vaxxer content.

In May Instagram said it would block hashtags that were used to spread misinformation about vaccines, while Twitter announced the launch of a tool that would direct users toward reliable health information if they tried to search for tweets related to vaccines.

In June, a study emerged which found that three-quarters of people in the UK think vaccines are safe, compared to less than 60 per cent in the rest of Europe.

The following month, Facebook announced a crackdown on health misinformation, changing the way it ranks updates to reduce posts "with exaggerated or sensational health claims" and/or "attempting to sell products or services based on health-related claims."

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