The spread of very often absurd vaccine misinformation on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is not what the world needs as it prepares to inoculate itself for COVID-19.
And one of the most influential names in tech and health care has a message to Big Social Media.
“You know, we have good regulations for TV broadcasting. They were many, many years ago. We have good regulations in the motion picture industry. It's time to have some good regulation on these social media platforms,” Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda Gates told Yahoo Finance when asked about the responsibility of social media platforms to clean-up vaccine misinformation. “We already know there's a tremendous amount of vaccine hesitancy because of the disinformation. And the disinformation is incredibly unfortunate because it actually results in people's deaths. If you don't do the right thing, you get COVID and you could die.”
To be sure, vaccine misinformation — of which Bill and Melinda Gates are sometimes the target of by anti-vaxxers on Facebook and Twitter — has become embedded in the psyche of many people because of their endless amounts of social media consumption.
A study released earlier this year by researchers at Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that up to 20% of those surveyed were at least somewhat misinformed about vaccines. The study also found that 15% “mistakenly agree” that is “very or somewhat accurate” to state that vaccines are full of toxins.
The study’s conclusion: People who rely on social media for information were more likely to be misinformed about vaccines than those who trust traditional media outlets. And this misinformation spread could hurt the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine.
A poll in September from the Pew Research Center found that about 49% of U.S. adults would definitely or probably not get a COVID-19 vaccine if it became available right now. Only 42% of those in the U.S. said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, according to a YouGov poll disseminated back in August.
“I think you're seeing some of them [social media platforms] do the right things to keep disinformation off their platform, and to stop it or take it down. But I think, absolutely, more could be done. I think, you know, social media has risen very, very quickly in society. And even the way it's used is changing. Honestly, it feels like it in my teenager day by day, and that age cohort. But I think the regulations have not only not kept up, they haven't gotten ahead of it. And I think it's time that they do,” Gates added.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation remains undeterred in its efforts to fight the pandemic despite its many obstacles — social media misinformation being one of them. On Thursday, the largest private foundation in the world said it will commit an additional $250 million to support the research, development and equitable delivery of COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. It marks the foundation’s largest single contribution to the COVID-19 response to date. The foundation’s total commitments to the global COVID-19 response now tallies $1.75 billion.
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