Facebook takes action to combat anti-vaccination messages

Alarmed over the anti-vaccine messages circulating on its platforms, Facebook will ensure that its users get correct information about immunization.

A spate of such messages has wreaked havoc with parents getting skeptical about vaccines and they are refraining from getting their children immunized.

The European countries are facing one of the worst consequences of the misinformation, leading to outbreaks of measles. As a result, four countries in the region: Albania, Czech Republic, Greece and the UK, have lost their measles-free status.

Re-establishment and transmission of measles – a life-threatening but preventable disease – in developed parts of the world is a worrying trend, a statement released by the World Health Organization (WHO), earlier this month said.

Globally, measles cases have nearly shot up four times in the first quarter of 2019, compared to the same period last year. More than 112,163 measles cases were reported to the WHO early this year, in comparison to 28,124 cases during the first quarter of 2018.

Similar messages transmitted widely on social media platforms are affecting polio-elimination efforts in Pakistan, forcing the government to launch a crackdown. South America is also facing an identical problem in dealing with yellow fever vaccination.

"Vaccine misinformation is a major threat to global health that could reverse decades of progress made in tackling preventable diseases," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

In order to put a leash on the transmission of false information on vaccines, the WHO approached various social media giants, including Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. While Pinterest and Twitter have already taken action, Facebook announced a similar measure on Thursday.

The social media giant will direct its users to links and pop-up windows, providing accurate and reliable information about vaccines in various languages.

"Major digital organizations have a responsibility to their users – to ensure that they can access facts about vaccines and health. It would be great to see social and search platforms come together to leverage their combined reach," Ghebreyesus added.

The video streaming services like Amazon and YouTube have also removed vaccine propaganda movies. But WHO believes strong actions taken by these online platforms should be matched by the government to ensure parents regain trust in vaccines.