Zuckerberg deflects questions about vaccine disinformation on Facebook

CEO says problem is primarily one of ‘vaccine hesitancy’ among the US public, touting platform’s vaccine literacy tool

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg skirted a question on Thursday about coronavirus vaccine disinformation on the social network, choosing to phrase the problem instead as primarily one of “vaccine hesitancy” among the US public.

In an interview with CBS, which was released on Thursday morning, TV anchor Gayle King pressed Zuckerberg to release information on how many people have viewed and shared Facebook posts containing misinformation about the Covid vaccine.

Zuckerberg said that Facebook has removed more than 18m posts containing misinformation from their website, but failed to answer when pressed by King on how many people viewed or shared these posts.

He deflected the question to focus on so-called vaccine literacy, touting the platform’s vaccine finder tool that he said has prompted millions to take their first steps towards getting vaccinated.

He said a lot of the misinformation conversation is really about “vaccine hesitancy” and that content should not be banned.

“I think, to some degree, there are also different definitions that people have over what misinformation is,” he said. “A lot of the stuff that’s actually the hardest for us to really address is not what I would call ‘misinformation’ but instead another category that I would call ‘hesitancy.’”

He attributed questions about which vaccine is safe, or which vaccine is effective to the “vaccine hesitancy” category, which he said is “a big part” of the whole conversation.

“That’s not misinformation, but it’s certainly contributing to an environment where people are asking questions about the safety of vaccines,” he added. “I don’t think we should ban it.”

Facebook has been accused of perpetuating and allowing misinformation about the pandemic and the vaccine to proliferate on its platform.

In July, Joe Biden said social media platforms like Facebook are “killing people” because of it.

The White House has also zeroed in on a clutch of accounts dubbed the “disinformation dozen” – Facebook accounts that have been shown to be responsible for the bulk of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms.

Thursday’s developments came as the Federal Trade Commission filed an amended complaint in federal court to continue pursuing its claims against Facebook, saying the online platform maintains monopoly power.

The complaint filed is a partially redacted version, which the FTC has requested must be under seal for 10 days.

The FTC said that Facebook since 2011 “has had monopoly power in the US with respect to personal social networking”.

While Facebook continues to defend itself and cites numbers of accounts and posts it has removed, misinformation experts have pointed out that people such as Robert F Kennedy Jr, a staunch anti-vaccine campaigner, are allowed to remain on the platform.

A Northwestern University study released in July stated that the vaccination rate among those who used only Facebook as a source for information is 40% lower than for those who use multiple sources for information on Covid-19.

Facebook told Guardian US on Thursday that it has removed 20m posts containing misinformation about the pandemic and closed 3,000 accounts, pages and groups for their content between the beginning of the pandemic and June.

Zuckerberg and King also discussed Facebook’s launch of a virtual workspace that gives its users numerous options, from switching conference rooms to presentation settings, as well as creating their own avatars.

The “horizon workrooms” is an app built off his idea for a “metaverse” which he said is a version of the internet “we can be inside of”.

Users can use hand gestures to interact with their colleagues, move about their virtual space as though in an office, and sit around the table as though in an in-person 3-D meeting room.

Users need to buy a special virtual reality headset to pair with the app.

Reuters contributed to this report.


Samira Sadeque in New York

The GuardianTramp

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