Facebook will downrank anti-vax content on News Feed and conceal it on Instagram

After indicating that it was exploring its choices for fighting the possibly deadly rise of anti-vaccination content on its platform last month, Facebook is creating a plan of attack.

Facebook’s strategy in the effort is to both minimize the unfolding of vaccination misinformation and to point users faraway from inaccurate anti-vaccination propaganda and toward “authoritative information,” i.e. data verified by the health and scientific institution.

To achieve a reduction within the unfold of anti-vax propaganda, Facebook will downrank groups and pages that unfold this sort of content across both News Feed and its search function. Facebook also will reject ads promoting anti-vaccination misinformation. Repeat offenders making an attempt to push this content through ads may see their accounts disabled. On Instagram, Facebook “won’t show or suggest content that contains misinformation regarding vaccinations on Instagram Explore or hashtag pages,” effectively burying that content from public-facing areas. Facebook noted that it’d also take away anti-vax adjacent ad targeting descriptors as well as the term “vaccine controversies.”

Facebook’s role in the rise of anti-vaccination or “anti-vax” conspiracy theories came into the spotlight last month. In light of reporting pointing to the responsibility of Facebook and YouTube in spreading this particularly dangerous type of misinformation, prominent California Rep. Adam Schiff wrote to the 2 companies demanding “additional info on the steps that you just presently take to provide medically accurate information on vaccinations to your users.”

Last month, Bloomberg reported that Facebook was “exploring further measures to best combat the matter,” as well as “reducing or removing this kind of content from recommendations, as well as groups you ought to join, and demoting it in search results, whereas also making certain that higher quality and more authoritative info is accessible.”

Like other dangerous sorts of online misinformation, the prevalence of anti-vax content has destructive real-world implications. The U.S. is presently experiencing an outbreak of measles, a completely preventable infectious disease that’s threatening the health of kids and vulnerable populations and creating broad school closures in places like Clark County, Wash.

When Facebook directs its attention toward reducing the general public unfolds of a specific strain of conspiracy theory or otherwise pernicious content, it tends to do a reasonably thorough job. The matter after all is that such efforts from Facebook and other major tech platforms stay reactionary instead of proactive, which means that Facebook’s next major outbreak of harmful, even deadly algorithmically fueled misinformation is probably going just around the corner.