Instagram clamps down on hashtags spreading fake news about vaccines

Modesto Morganelli
Mag 13, 2019

If Instagram will pick up that random hashtags like #vaccines123 end up being commonly used to spread anti-vaccination information, it will block them as well.

This means it will block any hashtag - including something innocuous like #Vaccines1234 - if it contains a high volume of vaccine misinformation.

However, on Wednesday, CNN published a story about how Instagram was still circulating content over the hashtag page #vaccineskill and through user accounts such as "Christians Against Vaccines".

But by removing the worst offenders from search results, Instagram is at least tackling one of the most obvious problems of how easy it is to find blatant anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and propaganda on Instagram. As a result, Instagram has been banning hashtags including #vaccinecauseaids and #vaccinesarepoison. It is also considering adding a pop-up message with factual information about vaccines to some hashtags, the spokesperson said.

Instagram declined to say what threshold a hashtag needs to reach before it is a candidate for removal, as it doesn't want users to be able to game the system.

Hashtags including #vaccinetruth, #vaccineskillandmaim and #vaccinescauseautismreadthestudies showed numerous posts containing false information. Serious adverse reactions are very, very rare.

The World Health Organization said anti-vaccine views were a "top 10 global health threat" in 2019.

Experts are concerned that anti-vax content and misinformation spreading online can discourage people from getting vaccinated or leave them vulnerable to contracting potentially deadly diseases such as measles.

In March, Instagram began blocking hashtags like #vaccinescauseautism and #vaccinesarepoison as a "short-term measure", to combat the spread of vaccine misinformation.

The crack down occurs as the U.S. is reporting a record number of measles cases across the country with many critics blaming the outbreak on the anti-vaxxer movement.

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