Inadequate measures of social networks to combat medical misinformation

Throughout the pandemic, technology giants have been forced to take a stand on content delivered through those who have been considered problematic. These dissemination platforms play a central role in access to information, but they have always refused to take the position of censor and claim to defend freedom of expression. An untenable attitude towards the extent of medical misinformation and a moderation that is considered lax. From now on, the new rules will be established under pressure from public opinion and political authorities.


In response to criticism, the platforms are shutting down. YouTube, for example, deleted fifteen videos that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had posted on his channel. The latter contained erroneous information about the coronavirus epidemic. YouTube therefore justified this decision by means of a press release, Wednesday, July 21, by stating that Jair Bolsonaro’s function or political ideology had no influence. The deletions took place “after careful review” of the published content. Since the start of the pandemic, the Brazilian president has questioned the severity of the virus, the benefits of incarceration, wearing a mask or even vaccination.

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Positions that he persistently defends on the Internet. On his YouTube channel, the politician regularly receives – live or not – his ministers, answers questions from internet users and throws over his opponents. In one of the deleted videos, former Brazilian health minister Eduardo Pazuello compared coronavirus to AIDS. In another, a Brazilian doctor recommended the use of drugs with unproven effectiveness. Comments that violate the platform’s policy regarding medical misinformation about Covid-19.

“Our policies do not permit content that claims hydroxychloroquine and / or ivermectin are effective in treating or preventing Covid-19, which indicates a cure for the disease, or which ensures that masks do not work to prevent the spread. of the virus, ”YouTube specifies in a press release.

Report posts

This is not the first time that the Brazilian president has seen one of his publications removed from a website. In March 2020, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followed suit after the release of three videos. Contrary to the health instructions issued by the Ministry of Health, especially social distancing, the day after these announcements, Jair Bolsonaro had staged in the streets of Brazil to go for a walk and exchange with passers-by. He believed that confinement was a “serious problem”, that coronavirus was only a “small flu” that could be treated with chloroquine.

The social network Twitter had deleted this content a few hours after it was posted online, given that it went “against public health instructions from official sources” and that it would likely “increase the risk of covid-19 transmission”. Facebook and Instagram had acted the day after, and the content was in violation of their “Terms of Use, which do not allow misinformation that could cause physical harm to people,” the platforms stated.

In May 2020, Twitter decided to strengthen its terms of service by announcing that “labels and warning messages to provide further explanations and clarifications” will be displayed “in situations where tweets are less likely to hurt but can still confuse or mislead people. Since then, sanctions have ranged from warnings to permanent account suspensions, including warnings, withdrawal of publications or temporary suspension of the account.

The site also has one misleading information policy on COVID-19. “We observe […] the emergence of persistent conspiracy theories, alarming rhetoric not supported by reliable investigations or reports, and a host of baseless rumors, reads this page. Without context, all of this can prevent the general public from making informed decisions about their health and endangering individuals, families, and communities. “All users of the social network can report this type of content.

Insufficient effort

Facebook and Instagram, for their part, implemented a series of initiatives in February 2020. They developed a strategy to support vaccination campaigns by offering 100 million francs of advertising space to health authorities and associations that promote vaccination, and launched the removal of messages claiming that it wearing a mask is not effective, that coronavirus “is factory-made or man-made”, or that “vaccines are toxic, dangerous or cause autism”.

Between March and October 2020, Facebook reports that it issued warnings of more than 160 million postings. Again, each user can report problematic content to the moderators. If the latter deems it necessary, the message will then be supplemented with a warning or deleted. Facebook goes even further and sends a notification to everyone who has interacted – like, share or comment – with this content. They are then alerted to the situation, encouraged to be better informed and invited to browse the health authorities’ websites.

However, a lot of content slips through the cracks. The management of publications on Facebook and Instagram is regularly criticized by health professionals or the media, and more recently by the President of the United States. Joe Biden reported that according to a report from the NGO Center for Countering Digital Hate, a dozen users have become “super-spreaders of anti-vaccine propaganda” and make sure to distribute their posts without being detected.

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Above all, the head of state accused Facebook in a statement of “killing people” by letting false information spread. For example, the hashtag #VaccinesKill – “vaccines kill” in French – which was blocked on Instagram two years ago, was still spreading on Facebook. According to CNN, which was able to see the posts associated with the keyword before it was locked, they forwarded blog posts from conspiratorial individuals or said that vaccines “eat people’s brains”, that they “inject software into our system”, or that ” dark forces want to reduce the population ”.

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