Facebook employees had warned CEO Mark Zuckerberg that his social media platform had compromised his goal to use the company to get 50 million people vaccinated against COVID-19.
Zuckerberg had announced the initiative in March, showing off Facebook’s ability to connect users with vaccine providers to help make appointments, as well as bring the service to its Instagram and WhatsApp subsidiaries.
‘This will be in the Covid Information Center, which we’ll show people right in their News Feed. We’ve already seen people use Facebook to find vaccination appointments, so this should enable millions more people to do the same,’ Zuckerberg wrote.
But for months, Facebook’s researches warned that comments on the vaccine-related posts that the platform was promoting were filled with antivaccine rhetoric aimed at undermining the message and any confidence in the vaccines, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, pictured in 2019, had wanted his social media company to help 50 million people get vaccinated. Internal memos from the company’s researchers found that Facebook hindered the goal more than it helped
Zuckerberg said he wanted Facebook and its subsidiaries to help millions get vaccinated
Facebook posts against the vaccination effort were rampant online with at least 310 million comments posted every day
The internal documents obtained by the Journal reveal that even the World Health Organization and Unicef, who helped lead the push for a global vaccination effort, reached out to Facebook about the flood of negative comments on their posts.
‘Anti-vaccine commenters that swarm their Pages,’ one Facebook employee wrote in a memo.
Another memo raised an alarm that about 41 per cent of comments on vaccine-related posts written in English were from those discouraging vaccinations.
That meant that of the 775 million daily comments on vaccine-related posts, about 310 million of them were pushing people away from vaccines.
The millions of comments ranged from personal objections all the way to conspiracy theories.
The researches dubbed the comments, ‘barrier to vaccination’ content and lamented at how people were using Facebook’s own tool to sow doubt of the pandemic’s threat and slow ‘a top company priority.’
Even authoritative sources of vaccine information were becoming ‘cesspools of anti-vaccine comments,’ the Facebook researchers wrote. ‘That’s a huge problem and we need to fix it.’
The problems with anti-vaccine posts were also seen Facebook’s subsidiary, Instagram
Strong anti-vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation continue in the US. Pictured, an anit-vax protest in Santa Monica, California, on August 29
Protestors continue to claim that vaccines are not necessary, with some calling COVID a hoax
In a statement, Facebook spokesman Aaron Simpson defended Facebook’s work in promoting the vaccine and said the memo’s were not sufficient evidence to say the company was failing in its mission.
‘We’re focused on outcomes, and the data shows that for people in the U.S. on Facebook, vaccine hesitancy has declined by about 50% since January, and acceptance is high.
‘The documents show Facebook’s ‘routine process for dealing with difficult challenges.
‘Narrowly characterizing leaked documents doesn’t accurately represent the problem, and it also ignores the work that’s been underway to make comments on posts about COVID-19 and vaccines safer and more reliable.’
The reveal of the mass misinformation campaign on Facebook comes as the US reported more than 207,000 new COVID cases on Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
The US also reported more than 2,600 new COVID deaths as the Delta variant rallies again after what appeared to be a slow down in early September.
About 74 percent of all eligible Americans have gotten at least one jab of the vaccine so far.
More than 41.7 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic
More than 672,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic
This new development comes as the leaked documents obtained by the Journal also revealed that researchers were also worried about Instagram’s effect on teenage girls.
According to the documents highlighted the fact that Facebook known for two years now that Instagram is toxic for young girls but continues to add beauty-editing filters to the app, despite 6 per cent of suicidal girls in America blaming it for their desire to kill themselves.
When Facebook researches first alerted the company of the issue in 2019, they said: ‘We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.’
This is some of the research Facebook was shown last March about how Instagram is harming young people
Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.’
One message posted on an internal message board in March 2020 said the app revealed that 32 percent of girls said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies if they were already having insecurities.
Parents and politicians reacted angrily to the data, calling it ‘sickening’ that Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg have known how harmful Instagram is but have done nothing about it.
‘This is appalling. I’ll be demanding answers from Mark Zuckerberg,’ Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey tweeted.
The slides also revealed how younger users had moved away from Facebook to using Instagram.
Forty percent of Instagram’s 1billion monthly users are under the age of 22 and just over half are female.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been quiet in the past about the issues the app is blamed for causing among young girls.
He told Congress in March 2021 that Instagram has ‘positive mental-health benefits’.
Instagram has a ‘parental guide’ which teaches parents how to monitor their kids’ accounts by enabling features like screen time limits and who can comment on posts, but there’s no way to verify someone’s age before they join the site.
Instagram claims it only accepts users aged 13 and over but says many lie about it when they join.
Instagram also does not flag any photograph or image that may have been distorted or manipulated, despite flagging materials it deems to contain misinformation, political posts or paid advertising.
The group of teens who said they were negatively impacted by the app were aged 13 and above.
Zuckerberg even announced plans to launch a product for kids under the age of 13.
He told Congress that it would be safe, answering ‘I believe the answer is yes’ when asked if the effects of how safe it would be would be studied.
Facebook has not shared the research before.
In August, when asked for information on how its products harmed young girls, it responded in a letter to Senators: ‘We are not aware of a consensus among studies or experts about how much screen time is “too much”.’
Senator Richard Blumenthal told the Journal that Facebook’s answers were vague which raised questions that it was deliberately hiding the research.
‘Facebook’s answers were so evasive – failing to respond to all our questions – that they really raise questions about what Facebook might be hiding.
‘Facebook seems to be taking a page from the textbook of Big Tobacco – targeting teens with potentially dangerous products while masking the science in public.’
In the letter, the company also said it kept the research ‘confidential to promote frank and open dialogue and brainstorming internally.’
THE DATA FACEBOOK WAS SHOWN ON HOW INSTAGRAM HARMED YOUNG GIRLS AND BOYS
Question of the things you’ve felt in the last month, did any of them start on Instagram? Select all that apply
Don’t have enough money
Don’t have enough friends
Down, sad or depressed
Wanted to kill themselves
Wanted to hurt themselves
Question: In general, how has Instagram affected the way you feel about yourself, your mental health?
US boys and girls: 3%
US boys: 2%
US girls: 3%
UK total: 2%
UK boys: 1%
UK girls: 2%
US total: 16%
US Boys 12%
US girls: 18%
UK total: 19%
UK boys: 13%
UK girls: 23%
US total: 41%
US boys: 37%
US girls: 43%
UK total: 46%
UK boys: 50%
UK girls: 44%
US total: 29%
US boys: 32%
US girls: 29%
UK total: 28%
UK boys: 31%
UK girls: 26%
US total: 12%
US boys: 18%
US girls 8%
UK total: 5%
UK boys: 5%
UK girls: 4%