In a letter published Wednesday, attorneys general from 12 states called on the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter to step up efforts to remove anti-vaccine content from their platforms.
The letter, written by Connecticut AG William Tong and co-signed by 11 of his colleagues, calls on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to take further action to de-platform those that spread misinformation about vaccines and COVID-19.
“The people and groups spreading falsehoods and misleading Americans about the safety of coronavirus vaccines are threatening the health of our communities, slowing progress in getting our residents protected from the virus, and undermining economic recovery in our states,” the letter states.
The letter notes that with the end of the pandemic within sight, anti-vaxxers are “threatening the health of our communities, slowing progress in getting our residents protected from the virus, and undermining economic recovery in our states.
The letter also cited research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which notes that two-thirds of anti-vaccine content originates from the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts of just 12 people.
“A small group of individuals use your platforms to downplay the dangers of COVID-19 and spread misinformation about the safety of vaccines. These individuals lack medical expertise and are often motivated by financial interests,” the letter reads.
The letter also accused the platforms of allowing some anti-vaxxers to “skirt” the rules when it comes to their terms of service and policies on the spread of misinformation.
“We call on you to take immediate steps to fully enforce your companies’ guidelines against vaccine misinformation,” the letter reads. “By effectively rooting out fraudulent information about coronavirus vaccines, you can prevent needless illness and death and hasten our road to recovery.”
Tong was joined by attorneys general from Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.
Both Facebook and Twitter have struggled to combat vaccine misinformation in the past. Even prior to the pandemic, Facebook was a breeding ground for vaccine conspiracies, and it wasn’t until 2019 that the company moved to prevent advertisers from targeting people who may be interested in “vaccine controversies.”
In February, Facebook announced it was “expanding efforts” to remove false claims about vaccines and COVID-19 on the platform and on Instagram. As part of those efforts, Facebook said that “groups, Pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that repeatedly share these debunked claims may be removed altogether.”
According to the BBC, Twitter is using a “five strikes rule” for people spreading misinformation about vaccines. After five instances, the platform will issue a permanent ban to the user.