Attorney General James Calls on Facebook and Twitter to Stop Spread of Anti-Vaxxer Coronavirus Disinformation

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James, as part of a coalition of 12 attorneys general, today called on Facebook and Twitter to take stronger measures to stop the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine disinformation being spread by anti-vaxxers on their social media platforms. In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Attorney General James and the coalition urge both CEOs to immediately and fully enforce company guidelines against vaccine misinformation in an effort to prevent needless infection and death and to hasten America’s road to recovery

“The science is clear — this vaccine saves lives, which is why I already received my vaccine and why I encourage all New Yorkers to get their vaccine when eligible,” said Attorney General James. “As we continue to make strides in vaccinating New Yorkers and recovering from the pandemic, it is imperative that every individual has access to this lifesaving vaccine and the science-based facts about it. We must ensure that there are no barriers to individuals receiving their dose, especially those in communities most impacted by the pandemic, including communities of color. Facebook and Twitter must take immediate action to protect New Yorkers and limit any further loss of life as a result of the spread of inaccurate information.”

The availability of safe and effective vaccines means the end of this pandemic is in sight. But America’s ability to end the pandemic quickly and limit further loss of life depends on broad public acceptance of these vaccines. False information regarding the safety of COVID-19 vaccines by a small number of individuals lacking medical expertise, and often motivated by their own financial interests, has reached over 59 million followers on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter — threatening to undermine vaccine acceptance and harm the nation’s recovery. Anti-vaxxers have used these platforms to disproportionately target people of color, and Black Americans specifically — communities who have already suffered the worst health impacts of the virus and whose vaccination rates are already lagging.

Today’s letter cites specific examples where Facebook and Twitter have failed to enforce their existing guidelines, including:

  • Twitter and Facebook have yet to remove from all their platforms the accounts of prominent anti-vaxxers who have repeatedly violated the companies’ terms of service. Digital media research groups estimate that, as of March 10, 2021, 12 anti-vaxxers’ personal accounts and their associated organizations, groups, and websites are responsible for 65 percent of public anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
  • Facebook has failed to consistently apply misinformation labels and pop-ups on its pages and groups that discuss vaccines or COVID-19 generally. For example, the company neglected to apply warning labels on dozens of Facebook groups that anti-vaxxer Larry Cook created for his followers. At the same time, the company has mistakenly flagged pro-vaccine pages and content in ways that have undermined pro-vaccine public education efforts.
  • Facebook has allowed anti-vaxxers to skirt its policy of removing misinformation that health experts have debunked, by failing to prevent them from using video and streaming tools like Facebook Live and sites like Bitchute, Rumble, and Brighteon to evade detection.

Today’s letter comes as Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are set to testify tomorrow at a joint hearing of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee and the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding social media’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation.

Joining Attorney General James in sending today’s letter to Facebook and Twitter are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia.