I learned the other day that Pinterest, the mecca for brides, DIYers, and natural mothers, is no longer providing results for searches on variations of the word “vaccine.” Why? The aforementioned “natural mothers” typically reject standard vaccination for their children, and due to the absence of scientific support of this, those natural mothers often create their own communities, both online and off. Pinterest is one of those communities, and allows users to share visual “proof” of the harm of vaccines along with advice and support. This is a powerful mechanism, and the natural mothering community has embraced it. Hard.
Pinterest, in the interest of public health in light of recent measles outbreaks, has taken the liberty to block results to searches for vaccine information, since 74% of all pins on related to vaccination are, in fact, anti-vaccination.
Although I only found out a few days ago, apparently Pinterest has been trying to silence the anti-vaccine movement since September 2018, when the anti-vaccination group NVIC’s account was removed. Pinterest’s community guidelines are very straightforward and much like any other social media platform’s; they reserve the right to remove any content that does not align with community guidelines.
Now, Facebook is following suit. In a statement by Facebook:
“We are exploring ways to share educational information about vaccines when people come across misinformation on this topic,” Facebook said in its announcement. “Leading global health organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have publicly identified verifiable vaccine hoaxes. If these vaccine hoaxes appear on Facebook, we will take action against them.”
Facebook will also target groups:
Facebook also said it will be removing anti-vax groups and pages from the recommended groups and pages sections. These recommendation widgets have been a key way anti-vax communities have been growing on the platform.
The librarian in me is twitching. Part of the reason I became a librarian is because of a love of truth and free flow of information. Now I find myself agreeing with censorship, because the anti-vaccination movement has created a culture of fear. A fear of science and a fear of each other.
Even though my son is fully vaccinated (well, he’ll be getting his MMR booster next month, even though he was due in February) I still worry about him. We can’t depend on herd immunity if we don’t have the herd, so I probably wouldn’t take him to one of the measles hotspots out west. I’m beyond thankful that his preschool requires full immunization to attend, which is something I guarantee my own mother never had to worry about.
Dr Amy Tuteur, aka “The Skeptical OB“, has a loyal following at her blog and on Facebook. She is a very vocal advocate for women and skeptic of the natural mothering movement, the umbrella for the anti-vaccine movement. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her sound logic has lead her to conclude that this is the wrong move for social media. As she states on a recent blog post:
Because social media companies should not be in the business of deciding what people can read and say. Today it may be anti-vax propaganda; tomorrow it may be climate science, abortion science or something equally controversial.
And you know what? She’s right. This is the first push on a slippery slope. And yet, I really want the anti-vaccine movement to go away. I doubt these actions will kill the movement, and perhaps it will inoculate (haha, see what I did there?) the masses against exposure to misinformation, but it may just push the movement underground further.
In my opinion, this is not a social media problem. This is a scientific literacy problem. Let’s focus on that.