Health: Social Media and Misinformation

The Story:

A recent report from an activist group (Avaaz) highlights the great flood of misinformation reaching the public through social media, especially through Facebook, concerning health and vaccinations. The report concerns itself with, for example, conspiracy theories centered on Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Significance:

Avaaz, a group founded in 2007, claims to unite “practical idealists” around the world.

Its recent study of Facebook indicates that the top ten websites for spreading false information about health and medical issues have more Facebook views than information from official sites, such as the World Health Organization. The campaign director, Fadi Quran, concluded, “Facebook’s algorithm is a major threat to public health.”

In Pill Form:

Facebook says that it is working on its algorithm to try to make the reliable information more readily available, and the misinformation less so. It also has been applying warning labels to some of the material and removing outright the most egregious falsehoods. And if one simply tests the matter by putting the word “vaccines” into its search engine, one does  get pointed to mainstream medical information.

Nonetheless, concerns have been growing that Facebook and social media in general have enabled a drowning-out of the sane voices in discussions of public health.

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