DC Attorney General Karl Racine filed a subpoena on 21 June calling on Facebook to provide documents and data to assess whether the tech giant has adhered to its earlier pledge to promote policies fighting COVID-19 misinformation on the platform, reported Axios.
“Facebook has said it’s taking action to address the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on its site. But then when pressed to show its work, Facebook refused.AG Racine’s investigation aims to make sure Facebook is truly taking all steps possible to minimise vaccine misinformation on its site and support public health,” Abbie McDonough, director of communications for Racine, said in a statement.
Amid research indicating that online COVID-19 misinformation can make Americans less willing to be vaccinated, Democrat Racine's office subpoenaed the company as part of a consumer protection investigation.
The subpoena seeks to obtain access to documents helping to identify Facebook groups, pages and accounts that might have violated the company's COVID-19 misinformation policy related to vaccines.
Subpoenaed documents will also hopefully shed light on the content still awaiting a fact check for vaccine misinformation, while revealing the extent of resources the company channelled into these efforts.
Responding to the subpoena, Facebook said in a statement:
"We’ve connected over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities, including through our COVID-19 Information Centre. We've removed more than 18 million pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram that violate our COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation policies, and labelled more than 167 million pieces of COVID-19 content rated false by our network of fact checking partners."
Back in February Facebook vowed to adopt tougher action against pandemic misinformation, including pertaining to the safety of jabs. At the time it was seen as a partial u-turn from the company’s previous position on vaccine misinformation. In September 2020 CEO Mark Zuckerberg told "Axios on HBO" the company would refrain from targeting anti-vaccination posts in a manner similar to its crackdown on COVID-19 misinformation.
"We work with the CDC and we work with the WHO and trusted health organisations to remove clear misinformation about health related issues that could cause an imminent risk of harm. If someone is pointing out a case where a vaccine caused harm or that they're worried about it — you know, that's a difficult thing to say from my perspective that you shouldn't be allowed to express at all."
However, in February Facebook said it would be updating misinformation policies to ban posting of debunked claims about the vaccines, with groups, pages and accounts repeatedly sharing these assertions possibly removed altogether.
Its COVID-19 information centre was to be boosted with directions on how and where to get vaccinated. The company also pledged $120 million in ad credits to help health agencies promote about the COVID-19 vaccines.
Facebook Study on Jab Hesitancy
The DC Attorney General’s subpoena also seeks details of a vast study by the company, reported by The Washington Post in March, into doubts expressed by Americans regarding vaccines.
The research sought to determine what was driving the spread of ideas contributing to vaccine hesitancy.
Early findings of the research, according to the outlet, suggested that a certain degree of content that does not actually breach any rules may nevertheless be causing harm in certain communities, contributing to vaccine hesitancy.
This comes as coronavirus inoculation rates have struck a plateau in the US, with the nation on track to fall short of President Joe Biden’s goal of getting 70 percent of American adults receive at least one vaccine shot by the Fourth of July.
Infection rates in 6 states during June, 2021— Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH (@ashishkjha) June 29, 2021
In four of the states, 35-40% of the population fully vaccinated
In two of the states, its about 60-65%
Vaccination rates are increasingly the major factor why infection rates vary so much across US pic.twitter.com/TQDdge3jlZ
Companies and community groups have been resorted to a plethora of incentives to urge the still unvaccinated population to get their jabs as the “Delta” variant of the disease spreads rapidly across the country. According to a CNBC analysis of CDC data, about 67 percent of adults will be at least partially vaccinated by 4 July.