Anti-vax ads are a source of controversy, since the entire movement is based on “research” has been debunked and maligned by educated medical professionals across the globe. Some think that platforms like Facebook should ban any “ads” by labeling them as misinformation, while others think they fall under the umbrella of “free speech,” and are therefore untouchable.
With diseases like measles making a comeback, though – 1,261 cases (and counting) in the U.S. in 2019 up from just 86 in 2016 – the people driving vaccine hesitancy are causing trouble for us all.
And it turns out that only a few organizations are paying for these advertisements – ads that have the potential to sicken and even kill people.
According to Vaccine, more than half of anti-vax ads on Facebook come from the World Mercury Project (WMP), which is chaired by Robert F Kennedy Jr., and Stop Mandatory Vaccination (SMV).
The World Health Organization lists vaccine hesitancy as a threat to global health, and the spread of misinformation, exacerbated by social media, is how its being largely driven.
The new study examined over 500 advertisements placed between December 2018 and February 2019. Researchers noted how many of them were fairly uniform and stuck to the same non-facts about the supposed harms of vaccines.
Facebook has rules governing political advertisements, but often anti-vax ads get around the restrictions by using words like “freedom” and “choice” instead of talking about vaccines themselves, says David Broniatowski, a principal investigator for the study.
“By accepting the framing of vaccine opponents – that vaccination is a political topic, rather than one on which there is widespread public agreement and scientific consensus – Facebook perpetuates the false idea that there is even a debate to be had. This leads to increased vaccine hesitancy, and ultimately, more epidemics.”
There are other avenues for misinformation, of course, but the social media pioneer is taking a lot of heat – rightfully so, says Broniatowski.
“Worse, these policies actually penalize pro-vaccine content since Facebook requires disclosure of funding sources for ‘political ads,” but vaccine proponents rarely think of themselves as political. Additionally, vaccine opponents are more organized and more able to make sure that their ads meet these requirements.”
Actually scientific studies have conclusively shown that vaccines are not only safe, but save millions of lives all over the world.
Facebook has promised to work on updating their policies in an attempt to curb anti-vax ads on the platform, but, as with all promises from big business (and this one in particular), only time will tell whether or not they actually follow through.
In fact, it’s been 6 months already.
In the meantime, go ahead and block and report them – it can’t hurt.