Community Issues

Message to Web: Help Stop Spread of Vaccine Misinformation

Free speech supporters worry about censorship if companies make it harder to find anti-vaxxer information on-line

Every major medical organization agrees: vaccines are safe, they prevent disease and even save lives.

But when you go on line for information that's not always the message you get.

Now the president of a nationally recognized child health advocacy group is asking tech companies like Facebook to help combat vaccine misinformation, amid an out break of measles that continues to grow.

American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Kyle E. Yasuda sent letters to the CEOs of Google (which owns YouTube), Facebook (which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram) and Pinterest, asking them to make sure parents using their platforms are seeing credible, science-based information.

Click here to read the entire letter.

In the first two months of 2019 there have been 206 confirmed measles cases in 11 states, including Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This even though the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, the AAP says, is proven safe highly effective at preventing measles.

"Right now, pediatricians are watching our worst fears realized as measles outbreaks spread across the country," said Dr. Yasuda wrote. "A potentially deadly disease, one we had eliminated with an effective vaccine, is endangering entire communities."

"A potentially deadly disease is endangering entire communities." Dr. Kyle Yasuda, President, AAP

The Academy says it's not asking that technology companies censor their users. Instead, they want those companies to "elevate scientific content from verified sources" which might include things like using algorithms to make verified sources easier to find on line, and what the AAP calls "misinformation" harder to find.

It looks like the tech companies are already listening. CBS This Morning reports that Amazon has apparently pulled at least five anti-vaxxer films from its streaming video service, including "The Greater Good," a documentary challenging the scientific consensus that vaccines are safe. The move came soon after Congressman Adam Schiff sent the company a letter calling on the company to stop "surfacing and recommending" content that "discourages parents from vaccinating their children."

CBS says Amazon refused comment.

CBS's Tony Dokoupil interviewed "The Greater Good" producer Leslie Manookian, who says her film has been viewed on line 10 million times. He asked her about the the line between free speech rights and public health.

"Well, listen, if I want to say that climbing to the top of a mountain causes cancer, that should be my right," said Manookian. "It's lunacy to say that I shouldn't be able to say that."

"We're slipping ever closer to tyranny and these tech companies are the ones who are really driving the bus." Documentary Producer Leslie Manookian, to CBS

While Congressman Schiff told Dokoupil he's not totally comfortable with the idea of big tech companies suppressing information. "I think here, where you're talking about an immediate threat to public health, where you're talking about a very strong scientific consensus, I think that cuts in favor of the exercise of social responsibility."

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