In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms have helped spread this dangerous myth.
Slate found more than two dozen posts on Posey’s congressional, public figure, and campaign pages promoting vaccine skepticism and misinformation. In fact, Posey’s official page shared a post while the hearing was still in session that applauded him for challenging Zuckerberg and pushed the theory about the Vaccine Injury Trust Fund. In other cases, Posey has shared links to websites that falsely establish a relationship between autism and vaccines, such as Age of Autism and Truth in Media, and pages for anti-vax organizations such as the Children’s Health Defense and Texans for Vaccine Choice.* The congressman also posted a link to a petition pressing Congress to hold hearings on “CDC Fraudulent Pediatric Vaccine Research” and shared news that Robert De Niro had defended the screening of an anti-vax documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival with a caption that further pushes the Vaccine Injury Trust Fund conspiracy theory. (Posey did not post that De Niro eventually decided to pull the documentary from the festival.) He advertised the documentary in another post. Posey also, at times, shares YouTube links to speeches he’s given on vaccines in Congress, and pictures featuring antivax figures with hashtags like #TheTruthAboutVaccines.On Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg testified before the House Financial Services Committee. Posey was there.
Michael Nuñez at Forbes:
One revealing moment came from an outspoken anti-vaccination supporter, Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL), who wanted assurance Facebook would “support users’ fair and open discussions and communications related to the risk as well as the benefits of vaccinations.”
“We do care deeply about giving people a voice and freedom of expression,” Zuckerberg said. “At the same time, we also hear consistently from our community that people want us to stop the spread of misinformation. So we try to focus on misinformation that has the potential to lead to physical or imminent harm, and that can include misleading health advice.”
Facebook has tried to tackle the spread of misinformation by lowering its value in News Feed and making it easier for users to report false posts. Independent third-party fact-checking organization review them—if they determine a story is false, it will be flagged as disputed and there will be a link to a corresponding article explaining why. But Facebook fact-checkers have described the process like “playing a doomed game of a wack-a-mole.” These various approaches have been widely criticized for not doing enough to stomp out the spread of false information across the platform.
Zuckerberg, who told Congressman that his “understanding of the scientific consensus” is that people should get their vaccines, said Facebook won’t stop its users from posting information that’s wrong.
“If someone wants to post anti-vaccination content, or if they want to join a group where people are discussing that content, we don’t prevent them from doing that. But we don’t go out of our way to make sure our group recommendation systems try to encourage people to join those groups.”