GoFundMe has joined a growing list of social media companies cracking down on anti-vaccination propaganda to help stop the spread of misinformation.
The increased effort from tech giants, such as Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube, comes amid a relentless anti-vaccine movement, talk about "chickenpox parties" and concerns about measles outbreaks across the country. It also comes as the American Medical Association, the nation's most prominent doctors' organization, has urged social media platforms to ensure users have access to accurate information on vaccines.
Amazon confirmed this week that it, too, had taken action, pulling
And now GoFundMe is doing the same.
GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne said in a statement to the Daily Beast that " Campaigns raising money to promote misinformation about vaccines violate GoFundMe's terms of service and will be removed from the platform. ”He said the company is“ conducting a thorough review and will remove any campaigns currently on the platform. ”
But Whithorne told the news site that those crowdfunding campaigns are "extremely rare" and that, so far, the company has found fewer than 10 to remove.
Experts say c ompanies, especially social media platforms, are tasked with new and challenging responsibilities as they learn to navigate the line between doing business and playing the role of censor in age when misleading claims about health and science can have a profound impact on public health. At the same time, some anti-vaccination advocates suggest the crackdowns violate First Amendment rights, limit alternative views and give Big Pharma an upper hand. (Larry Cook, a prominent lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post about the changes.)
Nevertheless, Facebook has announced it is banning certain content and ads containing misinformation about vaccines. Pinterest said it is blocking "polluted" search terms, memes and pins prompting anti-vaccine propaganda, and YouTube said it is banning anti-vaccination channels from running online advertisements, according to news reports. Instagram told the Hill this week that it plans to start blocking hashtags connected to "known health-related misinformation including #vaccinescauseautism, #vaccinesarepoison, and #vaccinescauseids."
Last week, James L. Madara, executive vice president and chief executive of the AMA, sent to the top executives at Amazon, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube, asking them for help
Madara said doctors "are reported by reports of anti-vaccine related messages and advertisements targeting parents searching for vaccine information on your platforms. ”
“ As physicians, we are concerned about the proliferation of this type of health-related misinformation will undermine sound science, further decrease vaccinations, and people to make medical decisions that could kick the spread of easily preventable diseases, ”he wrote. “With public health on the line and with social media serving as a leading source of information for the American people, we are at your part to ensure that users have access to scientifically valid information on vaccinations, so they can make informed decisions about their families' health. ”
" We also have to make public your plans to ensure that users have access to accurate, timely, scientifically sound information on vaccines, "Madara said in the letter.
The anti-vaccine movement has been sustained, in part, from fraudulent research from 1998 that purported to show a link between autism and a preservative used in vaccines – despite the fact that it has been discredited and despite the fact that numerous other studies have provided conclusive evidence that vaccinations do not cause autism.
The controversial debate has found center stage on popular social media platforms, where anti-waxers have been spreading misinformation, and healt h-care professionals have been coming under fire for trying to combat it.
The Washington Post's Lena H. Sun reported this week that "pediatricians and other practitioners are increasingly coming under digital attack from a global movement that spreads misinformation about vaccines. "
Online attacks against people who speak out in favor of vaccines have become more common, clinicians and vaccine advocates say. Social media websites are the primary platform for the anti-vaccination movement's misleading claims. Although anti-vaccine activists are a minor minority, on social media they may appear to be the majority.
Art Caplan, a bioethics professor and head of the division of medical ethics at New York University School of Medicine, previously said that these companies cannot allow themselves to be vehicles for misinformation contagion. ”
“ You probably post things that oppose vaccination – individuals can speak their minds. But when you have websites that are presenting false information, debunked information, similarly, books that to phony cures, I think there is a role for somebody in censorship, ”said Caplan, who co-wrote a 2017 paper on“ The overlooked dangers or anti-vaccination groups' social media presence. ”Caplan said it is important for companies to exclude such misinformation” because the power of social media, particularly in the vaccine space, is so strong that it's leading to fear of vaccines, which is leading to epidemics, which is putting people at risk. ”
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