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Action to Curb “Digital Pandemic” of Anti-Vax Misinformation

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The Chair of the Social Media APPG, Chris Elmore, will today call on the UK Government to take urgent and decisive steps to confront the burgeoning “digital pandemic” of misinformation disputing the safety of Covid-19 vaccines.

Leading the end of day adjournment debate in Parliament, the Ogmore MP will urge ministers to ensure the social media giants live up to their “moral responsibilities to their users and to the world” as the race to identify a Covid-19 vaccine continues. The Welsh Labour MP will also call for an “overhaul” of the government’s communications strategy about vaccine safety – and for a much wider promotion of the rigorous process through which vaccines are approved.

Ahead of the debate, Chair of the APPG on Social Media and Welsh Labour MP for Ogmore, Chris Elmore, said:

“Identifying a clinically safe and effective vaccine is likely the best hope the world has to finally release ourselves from the crisis we have been in since March.

“The tidal wave of misinformation about vaccines we now see enveloping social media platforms risks becoming an unstoppable tsunami unless decisive action is taken to counter it.

“The UK Government must work decisively and robustly with the social media giants to ensure this digital pandemic of misinformation does not fatally undermine our ability to finally end the real-life Covid-19 pandemic. If their strategy to counter this threat isn’t overhauled quickly, yet more lives could be lost as a result.”

Recent polling from the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) shows that a staggering 31 per cent of the British public would be hesitant to have a coronavirus vaccine if one becomes available. The CCDH also found that anti-vax social media accounts now have over 58 million followers and this number is growing rapidly. The 147 largest accounts have amassed over 7.8 million new followers since 2019, representing a staggering increase of 19 per cent. Facebook is overwhelmingly the leading host of such potentially dangerous information, but the platform is by no means alone.

This week, Facebook announced that it will be banning anti-vax adverts from its platform, although the CCDH has since found that adverts worth thousands of pounds were still live the day after the announcement was made.

Chris will state that: “this virus of misinformation now presents a real threat for our ability to control the real, and deadly, coronavirus”.

During the debate, Chris will also call out key high-profile “oxygenators” of such misinformation, including Madonna, Lewis Hamilton, Novak Djokovic, and Kanye West, who have all either shared anti-vax content online or alluded to supporting such damaging discourse. He will also commend Facebook and Twitter’s recent decisions to flag posts about Covid-19 that are factually incorrect and state: “Whether it be Presidents, F1 drivers, or Joe Bloggs from Number 73, this poison of misinformation must be countered before it is allowed to become yet more potent.”

Chris will call on ministers to:

  • Take much more robust action with the social media companies to ensure that anti-vax posts are either removed or flagged as false to users.
  • Overhaul their cross-government public communications strategy to better explain the rigorous process through which vaccines are approved
  • Build on the long-awaited online harms legislation, due next year, to establish a Social Media Health Alliance to fund research to help policy-makers stay ahead of the game as new digital threats emerge