A recent study published in the journal Science Advances has examined the effectiveness of Facebook’s policies for removing vaccine misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers found that while Facebook did remove some anti-vaccine and pro-vaccine content, there was no significant decrease in users’ overall engagement with anti-vaccine content. In fact, when pro-vaccine content was removed, the anti-vaccine content that remained became even more misinformative and polarized.
The study analyzed data from Facebook, including posts from pages and groups that discussed vaccines. The researchers used a comparative interrupted time-series design to compare post volumes and engagement before and after the implementation of Facebook’s anti-misinformation policies. They found that while the volume of anti-vaccine content decreased compared to pre-policy trends, users’ engagement with this content did not significantly change.
Furthermore, the study found that the removal of pro-vaccine content led to an increase in misinformative content related to adverse events following COVID-19 vaccination, such as hospitalization and death. Additionally, discussions about vaccines in groups increased after the policy implementation. The researchers also observed an increase in low-credibility links to external content, which may have exposed users to politically polarized content.
The authors suggest that Facebook’s system architecture may have allowed anti-vaccine content producers to find alternative paths to sharing their content, even after it was removed. They highlight the layered hierarchy of pages, groups, and users within Facebook’s platform, which can be manipulated to continue spreading misinformation.
Overall, this study indicates that Facebook’s current policies and system architecture are ineffective in reducing the spread of vaccine misinformation. The researchers emphasize the need for platform designers to align their policies and system architecture with scientific evidence to address the potential threats posed by social media to public health.