Senator Menendez takes on Facebook for allowing Anti-Vax material

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U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy, today sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg questioning misleading anti-vaccine content that remains widely available on the social media platform months after Facebook announced it would no longer allow ads or recommendations promoting anti-vaccine material. The false content has contributed to a measles outbreak and public health crisis affecting thousands of families across the country. 

“Given the serious risk to public health, Facebook must do more to quell this dangerous content,” wrote Sen. Menendez to Zuckerberg. “While we recognize that removing such dangerous content will not take place overnight, we are alarmed that it is taking Facebook over two months to implement its own policy during the ongoing public health crisis directly related to anti-vaccine rhetoric.  To that end, I ask that Facebook increase its efforts to tamp down on anti-vaccine content and I look forward to hearing from you on your progress”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 971 cases of measles have been reported this year in 26 states, including 14 in New Jersey.

According to recent reports, Facebook was still running ads for anti-vaccine groups in mid-May.  In March, Facebook said it would reduce the ranking of pages and groups that spread misinformation about vaccines in search results and news feeds.  Yet, as reported by the Wall Street Journal “administrators of several of the top-recommended Facebook groups related to vaccines explicitly endorse the claim that vaccines cause autism, and the most popular Facebook page related to vaccines—with 106,000 likes—is for an anti-vaccine documentary making similar claims.”

The full text of the letter reads:

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

I was pleased to see your announcement in March that Facebook would no longer allow ads or recommendations promoting anti-vaccine information.  Unfortunately, dangerous anti-vaccine content remains widely available on the platform.  Given the serious risk to public health, Facebook must do more to quell this dangerous content. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 26 states have reported 971 cases of measles this year.  My home state of New Jersey is home to at least 14 cases of measles this year with an outbreak occurring in Ocean County.  This is a public health crisis, fueled in part by dangerously erroneous anti-vaccination social media.

Weeks after Facebook announced that it would no longer promote anti-vaccine content, such ads continued to run on the platform through at least April 20.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook was still running ads for anti-vaccine groups in mid-May.  As Facebook itself admitted, tools for detecting banned content were not yet ready for deployment. 

Putting aside the need to refine new tools, I find it extremely concerning that Facebook appears to be using the tools it does have available. In March, Facebook said it would reduce the ranking of pages and groups that spread misinformation about vaccines in search results and news feeds.  Yet, “administrators of several of the top-recommended Facebook groups related to vaccines explicitly endorse the claim that vaccines cause autism, and the most popular Facebook page related to vaccines—with 106,000 likes—is for an anti-vaccine documentary making similar claims.”

In addition, dangerous anti-vaccine content still prominently appears on Instagram. According to CNN, in early May, “the hashtag #VaccinesKill was still up on the site and was a top result after anti-vax accounts.”

While we recognize that removing such dangerous content will not take place overnight, we are alarmed that it is taking Facebook over two months to implement its own policy during the ongoing public health crisis directly related to anti-vaccine rhetoric. To that end, I ask that Facebook increase its efforts to tamp down on anti-vaccine content and I look forward to hearing from you on your progress.

Sincerely,

12 COMMENTS

  1. Why can’t I read anti-vax material? If you think you give up freedom for (supposed) safety then you end up losing both. S Menedez is attempting to violate right to free speech. I am not yelling fire in a theater and I am not using speech to incite a riot. GIVE ME MY FREE SPEECH. Vaccines and medicines have been recalled and not all vaccines were safe, and I would like to discuss these issues. Let Merck sue me for libel if I say anything defamatory that cannot be backed up by facts. Why is the government forcing companies to censor? (hint pharma money)

  2. This is my comment on his facebook post.

    You represent each and every constituent in New Jersey. You are obligated to protect their freedom of speech. Senator Bob Menendez, I want to see an example of the kind of misinformation you mean on this post and on that letter. Could it be missed-information that main stream media is not reporting? For example:

    Outbreak of Measles Among Persons With Prior Evidence of Immunity, New York City, 2011
    https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/58/9/1205/2895266?fbclid=IwAR2l17qNcFwHz60VUj_NeSOWz_miaSNbphdVfXFMDrVPqtWhGyh20etVI6U

    PubMed: “Failure to reach the goal of measles elimination. Apparent paradox of measles infections in immunized persons.”
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/8053748/

    Measles virus sheds for 1-13 days after vaccination
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC228449/

  3. You can read a plethora of truly hateful, violent, and other vile information on Facebook and on other “censoring” mediums and modalities like Amazon, Pinterest etc. Yet, folks who have extremely valid questions about 1 vaccine or more, or one ingredient or more or have suffered ill effects, done the actual research, and now really have questions are being suppressed and stifled under the guise of “misinformation” from “antivaxxers” that is somehow dangerous. When you allow extremely vested interests, none more vested than Big Pharma, to write your script after determining the playbook, than welcome to the United States of Pharma. Woe shall come to any and all who wish to live a healthier lifestyle without being over-vaccinated and over-medicated. There is no such thing as Settled Science in True Science. Seriously folks, how many TV ads for prescription medication with a long list of adverse effects does it take to get brainwashes?

  4. So let me get this straight. You want to remove people’s choice to freedom of speech? You want to have people be censored by individuals that have ties to pharma? How is it even possible you’re “citizen of the public”??? BURY a kid from vaccines kiddo. See how that feels. Tell me what that feels like and then come back and tell all of us that have also witnessed this you’re sorry; you were an idiot and you’ll promise to RESEARCH something before opening your mouth next time. Do that okay?

  5. TALK ABOUT COLLUSION!

    There are 134 vaccine bills in 35 states to eliminate parents rights. That’s one giant, coordinated effort by criminal Big Pharma and corrupt democrats to attack parental rights.

    It should be obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention that it’s all about vaccine sales and not about public health. And your children are a means to that end—nothing more. Vaccines are big money. And the democrats need that pharma money if they want to have any chance at defeating Trump in 2020.

    FOLLOW THE MONEY
    https://www.opensecrets.org/

    • Wow! He got $1,248,987 for his election campaign from the Health and Pharmaceutical industry. Maybe the ex-vaxxers are on to something. This makes me uncomfortable… Can’t trust anyone in this world.

  6. The really chilling thing is that nowhere in this article OR in Sen. Menendez’ letter is a single bit of “antivax misinformation” a tually quoted or even described. The implication is that it’s automatically misinformation if it suggests that vaccines are less safe of less effective than their marketing campaigns would have us believe.

    Let’s call it what it is: corporate-controlled speech and thought.

    George Orwell called it decades ago.

  7. WHAT IS THIS. A senator is calling for censorship??? Is this a real American senator? Or a senator with ties to Russia seeking to undermine US democracy? I am saddened and disheartened by what I am seeing. American livelihood and democracy is under threat by never before by the WOEFULLY MISGUIDED. These people need to be voted out of office!

  8. I will NOT vote for anyone, no matter what party they are in, who makes laws and rules that solely benefit the companies that donate to their campaigns. And I will work harder to vote people OUT OF OFFICE who attempt to remove my freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

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