Facebook and Twitter are major sources of COVID-19 vaccine disinformation and are doing little to curb anti-vaxxers on their platforms, according to a dozen state attorneys general.
Fox News talking heads Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have also spread toxic anti-vaccine misinformation.
The nation’s recovery from the pandemic, which has claimed more than 540,000 lives, hinges on the public’s readiness to be vaccinated.
But COVID misinformation is causing the most vulnerable populations to shun, or delay, receiving shots that can be life saving and protect the public at large, as well.
The problem was detailed in a letter sent by 12 state attorneys general to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are set to testify tomorrow (Mar. 25) at a joint hearing in Congress over social media’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation.
“As safe and effective vaccines become available, the end of this pandemic is in sight,” the letter states. “This end, however, depends on the widespread acceptance of these vaccines as safe and effective.
“Unfortunately, misinformation disseminated via your platforms has increased vaccine hesitancy, which will slow economic recovery and, more importantly, ultimately cause even more unnecessary deaths,” it adds.
So-called “anti-vaxxer” accounts on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter reach more than 59 million followers, according to a recent report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
“’Anti-vaxxers’ are using social media platforms to target people of color and Black Americans specifically, members of communities who have suffered the worst health impacts of the virus and whose vaccination rates are lagging.”
Many of those posting on social media sites lack medical expertise and are often motivated by their own financial interests.
But the science is clear, said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who signed the letter.
“This vaccine saves lives, which is why I already received my vaccine and why I encourage all New Yorkers to get their vaccine when eligible,” she said.
“We must ensure that there are no barriers to individuals receiving their dose, especially those in communities most impacted by the pandemic, including communities of color.”
Twitter and Facebook have yet to remove from their platforms the accounts of prominent anti-vaxxers who have repeatedly violated the companies’ terms of service.
Anti-vaxxer Larry Cook is among a dozen anti-vaxxers and their associated organizations, groups and websites who are responsible for 65 percent of public anti-vaccine content, according to one digital media research group.
Yet, Facebook has failed to consistently apply misinformation labels and pop-ups on its pages and groups that discuss vaccines or COVID-19 generally, James charges.
At the same time, the company has mistakenly flagged pro-vaccine pages and content in ways that have undermined pro-vaccine public education efforts.
“In the early days of the pandemic, the network’s hosts insisted that the virus was a desperate attempt to ‘bludgeon Trump with a new hoax.'”
Carlson, Hannity and Ingraham as well as other Fox commentators consistently played down the danger of the virus, likening it to the common flu.
In typical fashion, Carlson and the others use anecdotal incidents to undermine confidence in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
As a result, Republicans as a group lag the rest of the nation for receiving COVID-19 vaccines.
Although nearly 41 million Americans are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, recent polls, show at least 41 percent of Republicans don’t plan to get vaccinated., according to National Public Radio.
At the same time, Fox News itself was taking steps to curb exposure in its offices. Even Fox owner Rupert Murdoch received the vaccine.
Joining James are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia.