Earlier this week, we learned that Facebook, despite reporting to Congress it would take more serious action on “fake news,” was actually running TV ads in conjunction with its latest smear campaign against reputable medical organizations. Ads were placed on supposedly neutral sites like WNYC and the New York Daily News, misleading viewers into thinking the sites they were visiting endorsed vaccines, which Facebook doesn’t allow.
Thankfully, it looks like there’s light at the end of the tunnel: a public spanking and multiple people punished from their salaries. But where’s the Facebook First Act? Facebook has backed down, with a spokesman saying it took the ads down Wednesday at the behest of the parents running them. The company did not return a request for clarification on who they take responsibility for.
A copy of the text used in one ad reads: “See our billboards, educate your children and immunize your family!” This is targeted advertising — designed to spread misinformation. A really nasty, anti-vaccine misinformation.
In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, vaccine coverage among parents has become a major public health issue. Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital, has devoted his entire career to warning parents against vaccinating their children, and to persuading them to do so. We reached out to him, who didn’t go on camera with an anti-vaccine media darling or myerkat-like spokesman but happily outlined his work for us and joked about modern vaccine policy.
“I’ve spoken out at home clubs, church groups, schools—and even won some converts,” he said. “I’ve had a number of people ask me over the years if I still agreed with my philosophy, which I have been a vaccine activist for more than twenty years. Many of them don’t and eventually they left.” Dr. Offit went on to describe the vaccines that are easily spread by friends, family, and social media: they start with highly contagious amniotic fluid, the first infant vaccines were “university-graded poisonous ideas,” and parents are still buying them today.
“This is when anti-vaccine crusaders appear, buy many vaccines and make up a bunch of ‘science’ to convince parents to not vaccinate,” Dr. Offit said. “They are a medieval evil organization who intend to make your life less safe by spreading disinformation. They will do a lot of harm in your lifetime. Some of that will be for the obvious reason: infant vaccines are a cruel hoax, 100% effective and can be pumped out of the fittest human who wouldn’t survive without them. But a portion of that harm may be to your teenage children, especially in the polarizing environment of US high schools. That, frankly, shocks me.”
He’s got a point: Our troubled high school culture — from steroids and tattoos to campus harassment and gender violence — encourages a one-sided, right-wing view of vaccination. We haven’t always been this way, and public health officials work overtime to put an end to that. Although, it’s hard to parse the study of vaccine research vs. what people think of vaccines.
According to Dr. Offit, Facebook does not sell advertising, but they have a history of anti-vaccine activity. “Some of them have either defamed research researchers, or have put the anti-vaccine campaign for fetal tissue research at the center of it,” he said.
Dr. Offit is a passionate proponent of protecting public health. His hospital, and every hospital for that matter, set their policy with the guidance of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because that’s the place where this information is. But, he also makes no bones about what he thinks of Facebook’s democratic attitude towards the outbreak of misinformation.
“There’s a lot of misinformation on Facebook — an ocean of misinformation,” he said. “That kind of proliferation has very serious social and health effects. It’s hard to tell what the meaning of the Trump-Mueller investigation is, but I think it’s probably related to the direct spillover effects of post-truth politics.”