At least two years after it would have been politically prudent to do so, Facebook moved to block content under the #VaccinesKill hashtag on Wednesday.
Searches for posts that would have normally appeared under the hashtag now redirect to a “keeping our community safe” banner, alongside a message alerting users to the fact that “some content in those posts goes against our Community Standards.” According to CNN, #VaccinesKill was still functional as recently as last Saturday — a full 18 months after Covid-19 bore down upon the global community in earnest.
The move to block the hashtag comes about a week after the Biden administration appealed to social media sites to get tough on what it had unofficially dubbed the “disinformation dozen” — a group of “about 12 people who are producing 65% of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms,” according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Biden himself accused Facebook of “killing people” by allowing lies about the effects of vaccines to spread unabated, but later diluted that statement to focus on the individuals churning out fake news rather than the companies responsible for amplifying it.
Indeed, misinformation — about Covid-19 vaccinations specifically, but also about everything else under the sun — has proliferated on Facebook in recent years, and the platform has been slow to take any meaningful action to curb anti-vaccine sentiment.
“Our process to determine whether a hashtag violates our policies takes several factors into account, including the percentage of content using the hashtag that violates,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNN.
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Interestingly, Instagram — which is owned by Facebook — took steps to block the #VaccinesKill hashtag back in 2019 (it remains blocked as of this writing). A Facebook spokesperson told CNN that that discrepancy was due to a “substantial portion of content” that was found to be in violation of the company’s policies on Instagram, while the content on Facebook, “did not reach our threshold to block the hashtag” at that time.
“Now, the #vaccineskill hashtag on Facebook violates our policies against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines and we’ve blocked it from search,” the spokesperson said.