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Facebook bans false claims about COVID-19 vaccines

Facebook said in a blog post that the global policy change came in response to news that COVID-19 vaccines will soon be rolling out around the world.

December 03, 2020 / 10:18 PM IST

Facebook Inc on December 3 said it would remove false claims about COVID-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts, following a similar announcement by Alphabet Inc's YouTube in October.

The move expands Facebook's current rules against falsehoods and conspiracy theories about the pandemic. The social media company says it takes down coronavirus misinformation that poses a risk of "imminent" harm, while labeling and reducing distribution of other false claims that fail to reach that threshold.

Facebook said in a blog post that the global policy change came in response to news that COVID-19 vaccines will soon be rolling out around the world.

Two drug companies, Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc, have asked U.S. authorities for emergency use authorization of their vaccine candidates. Britain approved the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday, jumping ahead of the rest of the world in the race to begin the most crucial mass inoculation program in history.

Misinformation about the new coronavirus vaccines has proliferated on social media during the pandemic, including through viral anti-vaccine posts shared across multiple platforms and by different ideological groups, according to researchers.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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A November report by the nonprofit First Draft found that 84 percent of interactions generated by vaccine-related conspiracy content it studied came from Facebook pages and Facebook-owned Instagram.

Facebook said it would remove debunked COVID-19 vaccine conspiracies, such as that the vaccines' safety is being tested on specific populations without their consent, and misinformation about the vaccines.

"This could include false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines. For example, we will remove false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips," the company said in a blog post. It said it would update the claims it removes based on evolving guidance from public health authorities.

Facebook did not specify when it would begin enforcing the updated policy, but acknowledged it would "not be able to start enforcing these policies overnight."

The social media company has rarely removed misinformation about other vaccines under its policy of deleting content that risks imminent harm. It previously removed vaccine misinformation in Samoa where a measles outbreak killed dozens late last year, and it removed false claims about a polio vaccine drive in Pakistan that were leading to violence against health workers.

Facebook, which has taken steps to surface authoritative information about vaccines, said in October that it would also ban ads that discourage people from getting vaccines. In recent weeks, Facebook removed a prominent anti-vaccine page and a large private group - one for repeatedly breaking COVID misinformation rules and the other for promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
Reuters
first published: Dec 3, 2020 10:17 pm

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