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Apr 05, 2019 10:42 AM EDT

How Tech Firms Are Fighting Anti-Vaxxers

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A surge in unvaccinated children across the United States has terrified parents and well-educated citizens everywhere, with a growing number of anti-vaxxers responsible for a social media movement that's spread harmful misinformation regarding public health. Tech firms are finally beginning to fight back against anti-vaxxers, many of whom have enjoyed access to popular platforms and a widespread audience for far too long.

Here's how tech firms are fighting against anti-vaxxers, why such efforts were needed in the first place, and how the harmful anti-vax movement is costing children around the country their wellness and lives.

Pinterest took the lead

Of all the companies responsible for fighting anti-vaxxers recently, Pinterest is notable because it took the lead by becoming one of the first major companies to publicly announce it would be cracking down on anti-vax content and accounts. While massive platforms like Facebook and Twitter were inundated with fake news regarding the validity of vaccinating your children, Pinterest was taking note of the fact that conspiracy theorists were using its platform for nefarious purposes. Quickly moving to stem the flowing tide of disinformation, Pinterest clamped down on anti-vaxxers by blocking their searches across the board and automatically deleting the content it detected was harmful.

This was an exceptionally well-executed campaign against conspiracy theorists who were spreading harmful lies about vaccines, and other tech platforms quickly took note of Pinterest's brutal efficacy. Following in the footsteps of Pinterest, both Facebook, Twitter, and a wide range of other platforms all announced anti-vaxxer purges of their own, with harmful content quickly being scrubbed from search bars across the web. This was a positive development that doubtlessly helped save lives, regardless of how late it came from some of the larger platforms who were able to weather criticism for longer.

Facebook's efforts to tackle rampant disinformation on its platform have failed in the past, however, and concerned people around the country have plenty of reason to believe that the company and other tech platforms could falter in its efforts to stymie the anti-vax movement. There's also an ethical challenge to consider, regardless of which platform is being analyzed; after all, determining which content is "anti-science" and unacceptable is no easy feat, and tech companies can easily be accused of bias when it comes to choosing who to silence.

A number of other tech companies have nonetheless taken positive steps to cull anti-vaxxers from the worldwide web. GoFundMe recently announced that anti-vaxxers will no longer be allowed to raise money through its services, a crucial win for public health given that some anti-vax groups saw the platform as an opportunity to spread their message and garner financial support. The result will be that the US healthcare system will become unduly overburdened adding to the growing concerns of the shortcomings of the healthcare system.

Cracking down on misinformation comes at a cost

Despite the importance of stripping anti-vax content from the web, many tech companies and private individuals alike are coming to understand that cracking down on misinformation comes at a cost. Lawmakers across the United States put tech company leaders in the spotlight when the anti-vax movement became a notable public problem, for instance, but the president's personal Twitter account has been used to peddle anti-vaccine conspiracies in the past. Those who are crusading against anti-vaxxers are thus forced to walk a tightrope where they purge the web of harmful information without getting accused of an ideological bias in their pursuits.

With senior politicians clearly believing anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, it should be obvious that today's tech firms have no small obstacles in front of them when it comes to cleaning up the internet. This is why anti-vaccination movements need to be loudly decried by everyone, as it will take a societal-wide movement to put anti-vaxxers off the public radar where they belong. Private citizens who are disgusted by the anti-vax movement should equip themselves with the facts by reviewing the CDC's page on vaccines and how they don't have autism. Authoritative sources of medical information are needed more now than ever before.

As other social media platforms follow in the footsteps of Pinterest and move to block anti-vaccine content from being searchable, we should all consider the many ways that the digital age enables disinformation to spread. The rise of an interconnected society is mostly positive, but the chilling elements of disinformation and conspiracy theories will always need to be faced by our tech firms.

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