Facebook’s dilemma: How to police claims about unproven COVID-19 vaccines

first_imgSince the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus an international health emergency in January, Facebook Inc has removed more than 7 million pieces of content with false claims about the virus that could pose an immediate health risk to people who believe them.The social media giant, which has long been under fire from lawmakers over how it handles misinformation on its platforms, said it had in recent months banned such claims as ‘social distancing does not work’ because they pose a risk of ‘imminent’ harm. Under these rules, Facebook took down a video post on Wednesday by U.S. President Donald Trump in which he claimed that children are “almost immune” to COVID-19.But in most instances, Facebook does not remove misinformation about the new COVID-19 vaccines that are still under development, according to the company’s vaccine policy lead Jason Hirsch, on the grounds that such claims do not meet its imminent harm threshold. Hirsch told Reuters the company is “grappling” with the dilemma of how to police claims about new vaccines that are as yet unproven. At the same time, free speech advocates fret about increased censorship during a time of uncertainty and the lasting repercussions long after the virus is tamed.Drawing the line between true and false is also more complex for the new COVID-19 vaccines, fact-checkers told Reuters, than with content about vaccines with an established safety record.Facebook representatives said the company has been consulting with about 50 experts in public health, vaccines, and free expression on how to shape its response to claims about the new COVID-19 vaccines.Even though the first vaccines aren’t expected to go to market for months, polls show that many Americans are already concerned about taking a new COVID-19 vaccine, which is being developed at a record pace. Some 28% of Americans say they are not interested in getting the vaccine, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted between July 15-21. Among them, more than 50% said they were nervous about the speed of development. More than a third said they did not trust the people behind the vaccine’s development.The UK-based non-profit Center for Countering Digital Hate reported in July that anti-vaccination content is flourishing on social media sites. Facebook groups and pages accounted for more than half of the total anti-vaccine following across all the social media platforms studied by the CCDH.One public Facebook group called “REFUSE CORONA V@X AND SCREW BILL GATES,” referring to the billionaire whose foundation is helping to fund the development of vaccines, was started in April by Michael Schneider, a 42-year-old city contractor in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The group grew to 14,000 members in under four months. It was one of more than a dozen created in the last few months, which were dedicated to opposing the COVID-19 vaccine and the idea that it might be mandated by governments, Reuters found.Schneider told Reuters he is suspicious of the COVID-19 vaccine because he thinks it is being developed too fast to be safe. “I think a lot of people are freaking out,” he said.Posts about the COVID-19 vaccine that have been labeled on Facebook as containing “false information” but not removed include one by Schneider linking to a YouTube video that claimed the COVID-19 vaccine will alter people’s DNA, and a post that claimed the vaccine would give people coronavirus. Facebook said that these posts did not violate its policies related to imminent harm. “If we simply removed all conspiracy theories and hoaxes, they would exist elsewhere on the internet and broader social media ecosystem. This helps give more context when these hoaxes appear elsewhere,” a spokeswoman said.Facebook does not label or remove posts or ads that express opposition to vaccines if they do not contain false claims. Hirsch said Facebook believes users should be able to express such personal views and that more aggressive censorship of anti-vaccine views could also push people hesitant about vaccines towards the anti-vaccine camp.‘It’s kind of on steroids’At the crux of Facebook’s decisions over what it removes are two considerations, Hirsch said. If a post is identified as containing simply false information, it will be labeled and Facebook can reduce its reach by limiting how many people will be shown the post. For example, it took this approach with the video Schneider posted suggesting the COVID-19 vaccine could alter people’s DNA.If the false information is likely to cause imminent harm, then it will be removed altogether. Last month, under these rules, the company removed a video touting hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus cure – though only after it racked up millions of views.In March 2019, Facebook said it would start reducing the rankings and search recommendations of groups and pages spreading misinformation about any vaccines. Facebook’s algorithms also lift up links to organizations like the WHO when people search for vaccine information on the platform.Some public health experts want Facebook to lower their removal standards when considering false claims about the future COVID-19 vaccines. “I think there is a duty (by) platforms like that to ensure that they are removing anything that could lead to harm,” said Rupali Limaye, a social scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who has been in talks with Facebook. “Because it is such a deadly virus, I think it shouldn’t just have to be ‘imminent.'”But Jacob Mchangama, the executive director of Copenhagen-based think tank Justitia who was consulted by Facebook about its vaccine approach, fears the fallout from mass deletions: “This may have long-term consequences for free speech when this virus is hopefully contained,” he said.Misinformation about other vaccines has rarely met Facebook’s threshold for risking imminent harm.However, in Pakistan last year, the company intervened to take down false claims about the polio vaccine drive that were leading to violence against health workers. In the Pacific island state of Samoa, Facebook deleted vaccine misinformation because the low vaccination rate was exacerbating a dangerous measles outbreak.“With regard to vaccines, it’s not a theoretical line … we do try to determine when there is likely going to be imminent harm resulting from misinformation and we try to act in those situations,” Hirsch told Reuters.To combat misinformation that doesn’t meet its removal criteria, Facebook pays outside fact-checkers – including a Reuters unit – who can rate posts as false and attach an explanation. The company has said that 95 percent of the time, people who saw fact-checkers’ warning labels did not click through to the content. Still, the fact-checking program has been criticized by some researchers as an inadequate response to the amount and speed of viral misinformation on the platforms. Fact-checkers also do not rate politicians’ posts and they do not judge posts that are exclusively in private or hidden groups.Determining what constitutes a false claim regarding the COVID-19 shot is much harder than fact-checking a claim about an established vaccine with a proven safety record, Facebook fact-checkers told Reuters.”There is a lot of content that we see and we don’t even know what to do with it,” echoed Emmanuel Vincent, founder of Science Feedback, another Facebook fact-checking partner, who said the number of vaccines in development made it difficult to debunk claims about how a shot would work.In a study published in May in the journal Nature, physicist Neil Johnson’s research group found that there were nearly three times as many active anti-vaccination groups on Facebook as pro-vaccination groups during a global measles outbreak from February to October 2019, and they were faster growing.Since the study was published, anti-vaccine views and COVID-19 vaccine conspiracies have flourished on the platform, Johnson said, adding, “It’s kind of on steroids.” Topics :center_img “There’s a ceiling to how much we can do until the facts on the ground become more concrete,” Hirsch said in an interview with Reuters, talking publicly for the first time about how the company is trying to approach the coronavirus vaccine issue.Tom Phillips, editor at one of Facebook’s fact-checking partners Full Fact, sees the conundrum this way: “How do you fact check about a vaccine that does not exist yet?”For now, misinformation ranging from unfounded claims to complex conspiracy theories about the developmental vaccines is proliferating on a platform with more than 2.6 billion monthly active users, a review of posts by Reuters, Facebook fact-checkers and other researchers found.The worry, public health experts told Reuters, is that the spread of misinformation on social media could discourage people from eventually taking the vaccine, seen as the best chance to stem a pandemic that has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands worldwide, including 158,000 people in the United States alone.last_img read more

Treasured designer home set to go under the hammer this weekend

first_imgSylvia Beem is sad to be leaving her home of the past 26 years, but it’s time to downsize. Photo: Tim MarsdenThe decision to sell her Yeronga home of the last quarter century has been a tough one for Sylvia Beem – but it’s time to downsize.“It’s a big heart wrench to be honest,” she said. And it’s easy to see why she’s loved raising her family in the Hamptons style five-bedroom, three-bathroom home, because it’s a stunner.Whether children are little or big, there are plenty of usable spaces in the home. For example, Beem said the kitchen looked through concertina doors to the yard.“If you’ve got young children you can watch them playing in the garden while you’re cooking dinner,” she said.When treehouses adult, this dream home is what’s possibleWhy it pays to style a propertyGet the best Real Estate and Property News in your inbox freeMore from newsMould, age, not enough to stop 17 bidders fighting for this home5 hours agoBuyers ‘crazy’ not to take govt freebies, says 28-yr-old investor5 hours ago140 Kadumba St, YerongaThere’s also a library and separate office on the upper level, so older kids and parents can get away from the family buzz if needed.Beem said she used part of the four-car garage as an art studio, and its loft was self-contained with a bathroom and kitchenette. “It’s a guest quarters or for teenagers who want that little bit of independence,” she said.Beem also said the pool pavilion was perfect for outdoor entertaining.“You can have parties by the pool. You can barbecue out there and look back at the house. It’s really lovely – it’s almost like a resort,” she said.140 Kadumba St, YerongaThere’s even a secret ‘kid’s space’ to discover. “Under the stairwell my kids had their cubby house, and there are still a couple of pictures taped up under there,” she said.Beem said she would miss Yeronga and its inspirational landscape.“There’s an area where you walk along the river and you honestly could be in the countryside somewhere. Being a painter I keep wanting to paint that scene,” she said. “Yeronga has a very village-like atmosphere. It’s almost like you’re not in a major city.”140 Kadumba St, Yeronga, marketed by Judy Goodger, of Place New Farm, will be auctioned on-site Saturday May 6 at 11am.last_img read more

Allardyce relaxed on new contract

first_imgSam Allardyce insists he is not worried about being offered a new contract at West Ham despite his current deal expiring at the end of the season. “It’s been a big bonus with the new players hitting the ground running, producing quality form straight away. “Every new signing has made a really good contribution – it’s lifted the rest of the team, increased the quality and energy.” Allardyce continued: “We have a good environment. My early days with Bolton taught me not to just think about the player – think about the family and how you integrate them into the culture. “It’s hard to do, particularly if they don’t speak English well. T hat’s been one help we’ve had – the environment here is a happy one and one where everyone is accepted.” The Hammers are aiming for their fourth win in five games on Saturday but face a tough test at home to reigning champions Manchester City. City thrashed Tottenham 4-1 last weekend and if the Hammers are to avoid a similar fate they will need to stop Sergio Aguero, who hit four against Spurs and another in the Champions League on Tuesday. “He has been plagued with a few injures in the World Cup and in the early season for Man City but you saw a fully fit Aguero last week,” Allardyce said. “Not only did he score four but he missed a penalty so he could have had five. Sometimes you have to say he’s just unstoppable. “We’ve got to try to focus on limiting service to him – the lads in front of the defence can make life difficult. “That’s the key element to keeping him quiet because he can receive the ball even when he’s marked and wriggle free. He’s a fantastic finisher.” Press Association Allardyce signed a two-year extension to his contract in May 2013 but the former Bolton boss is happy to wait before committing his future again. “The conversations are the same as they were in the first year in the Premier League – we’ll see how the season progresses and when the time is right,” Allardyce said. “If it has progressed to a certain level that they want to offer me a new contract, that’s fine. “At my age it doesn’t particularly worry me a great deal. Contracts are made and broken in the entire football industry – i t doesn’t mean anything like it used to because a long or short contract doesn’t protect you. “It’s a winning culture you need – if you continue to win, you improve the club.” West Ham’s strong start owes much to the form of their summer signings who have adjusted quickly to the pace of the English top flight. Diafra Sakho has scored five goals in as many games but the likes of Enner Valencia, Mauro Zarate, Alex Song and Aaron Cresswell have all made valuable contributions. “Is this the best team I’ve had here? It looks like it,” Allardyce said. Allardyce led the Hammers to promotion from the Championship two years ago and the team have enjoyed an excellent start to their third campaign in the top flight, sitting fourth in the Barclays Premier League table. West Ham’s form will be particularly satisfying for Allardyce, who was criticised by Hammers fans last season and appeared to have been ordered to impose a more attractive style of play by the club’s co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan in a statement from the pair earlier this year. last_img read more