Lawmakers Want Google and Facebook to Combat Anti-Vaccine Messages

February 15, 2019, 2:35 PM UTC

Anti-vaccine messages have spread ever since an ultimately debunked false study claimed a connection between vaccine use and autism. Officials are now pressuring Facebook and Google to address the spread of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

Less than 20 years ago, measles in the U.S. was classified as a eradicated disease with only a few hundred cases nationwide, according to the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the average number of cases from 2010 through 2018 has been 218.

But within the first 38 days of 2019, the U.S. has already seen 101 cases. The World Health Organization says that 2018 saw a “record high” number of cases across Europe.

The CDC points to two factors. One is people who travel overseas, contract the disease, and bring it back. The other is groups of people who object to vaccination—so-called anti-vaxxers—who claim that vaccines are dangerous and so refuse to let their children have the treatment. Some teenagers concerned about their health have sought vaccines without their parents permission, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) sent letters to both tech companies, requesting that they address the problem. Facebook (FB) sent a statement to Bloomberg that it was “exploring additional measures to best combat the problem.” The potential avenues it might take are “reducing or removing this type of content from recommendations, including Groups You Should Join, and demoting it in search results, while also ensuring that higher quality and more authoritative information is available.”

In January, Google (GOOGL) said that it changed video recommendations on YouTube, a popular platform for spreading non-mainstream information., to eliminate videos with “borderline content” that “misinform users in harmful ways.”