Pinterest Takes on Anti-Vaccine Misinformation

Pinterest, the searchable social network that is particularly adored by crafters and hobbyists, announced this past week that it was taking another step to combat misinformation around vaccines.

Like all social media sites, Pinterest has come under scrutiny as anti-vaccine communities have sprung up within the networks themselves. In 2016 Pinterest was criticized after a study revealed that 75 percent of “vaccine” content on the site returned negative results that could mislead people about established vaccine safety and effectiveness.

Pinterest, in a rare move for social networks, took strict action and updated its community guidelines to explicitly ban the promotion of “false cures” for terminal or long-lasting illness, as well as “anti-vaccination advice”. This was part of a broader update on standards that Pinterest said were designed to protect its users’ health and wellbeing.

This allowed Pinterest to start banning boards that specifically broke those rules, and if necessary taking action against pinners themselves if they repeatedly flouted content guidelines. Pinterest has also started blocking pins from being sourced from certain websites that are known to be heavy on misinformation.

Pinterest’s†action shows an evolution in the fight against anti-vaccine propaganda.

“We want Pinterest to be an inspiring place for people, and there’s nothing inspiring about misinformation,”†A Pinterest spokesperson told†The Hill. “That’s why we continue to work on new ways of keeping misleading content off our platform and out of our recommendations engine.”

The company adds that some search terms do still return results. For example, at the time of reporting CNBC†was able to search “vaccine harm” and find content. However, this will be an ongoing process, and users†will be able to flag inappropriate content for delisting.

Pinterest makes it clear that this is designed as a stop-gap solution as the social sharing site works on a more encompassing strategy to effectively combat medical misinformation.

The Guardian†has an excellent piece on why social media seems so deluged with conspiracy theories and misinformation, but to summarize it comes down to a mismatch in the speed of truth and fiction.

Science is, by nature, careful and slow. That means it does not easily fit into the constantly-churning machine of social media feeds, and that leaves a gap. This is where conspiracy theories and anti-science misinformation have the advantage, because they don’t need to verify facts, they only need to sound just plausible enough to gain traction and essentially fill that gap.

In the world of social media we are uniquely vulnerable, because it is easy for†ideas that speak to biases we might already have to prey upon our fears, for example new parents wanting what is best for our children. Those biases may not even be irrational. For example, pharmaceutical companies do not always act in a trustworthy way. Quickly, social media forums can become an echo chamber for that idea,†pushing us further and further away from the scientific consensus that vaccines are safe and effective.

Social media sites like Pinterest therefore have a responsibility to stop misinformation that is causing real damage to global health.

While Pinterest has taken laudable steps, other larg sitesólike Facebook and Instagram†(which Facebook owns)ócontinue to let dangerous anti-vaccine forums pop up on their platforms with, critics say, only perfunctory attempts to curtail the worst of the material. Anti-vaccine ads are still finding their way on to the platforms, while anti-vaccine groups continue to proliferate, an issue that members of Congress†have even raised with Facebook.

Facebook†has said that it is looking at ways to delist anti-vaccination searches, to purge them from its “recommended groups” and other top measures. Google, similarly, has said it is taking steps to delist such searches and to flag suspect content.

Critics say these sites are not acting fast enough. Could Pinterest’s proactive model be the solution? It won’t be a one-size-fits-all answer, certainly, but Pinterest has said it hopes that a cross-platform solution might be worked out in the future. For the sake of our health, I hope so too.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

46 comments

Chad A
Chad Anderson2 days ago

Thank you.

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Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E5 days ago

@darlene buckingham
I'm surprised you didn't get into your "alternative ways" mantra like you usually do.
Any parent with children OF THEIR OWN should be researching for THEIR child.
Tell those same "parents" that if their child wants to travel with their school like so many young folks do now, they MUST be immunized. Tell them that if they go into some professions they will need to show proof of immunization. Do you think that vaccine is any different? Just harder to take as an adult. Maybe they should put essential oils in their socks, darlene.

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Darlene Buckingham

That is what informed consent is, getting all the FACTS to make an informed decision. That requires doing the research from multiple sources plus looking at your own or your children's medical history to make a decision about vaccination. That requires time and effort to become informed. Many people that are questioning vaccination are doing so because they have done the research and encouraging others to do the research. As more and more people learn the FACTS about vaccination they are questioning how many vaccines and which vaccines are worth the risk associated with vaccination compared to the risk of the illness they are protecting against. These are good questions and should be encouraged and welcomed. All this "anti-vaccine" rhetoric is making people ask what are pharmaceutical companies hiding if they do not encourage asking questions and dismiss any concerns by saying someone is "anti-vaccine" rather than seeking informed consent.

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Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E10 days ago

A darlene buckingham
We DO know the difference between "free speech" and "informed consent" as you stated in your 2 prior posts.
Your statement "informed consent and free speech are worth protecting". The health and well being of children seems to me to be MORE important than YOUR free speech. DON'T speak for others until YOU have all the facts about these diseases.

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Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E10 days ago

@ darlene buckingham
Then do YOUR usual.. NOTHING .... Just continue on with YOUR type of fear mongering for the parents who DO have their OWN children.
On this one, you're off base... AGAIN

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Jan S
Jan S11 days ago

Thanks for posting

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Darlene Buckingham

Informed consent is not the same as freedom of speech. Informed consent means you know all the information required to make a good decision. No information is withheld. Unfortunately there is so much misinformation about vaccination that it is difficult to make an informed choice. What is happening as people learn more about the reality of vaccination they want better choices. Vaccines do not always work, some people have adverese reactions, medical waste is being created, immunity is not for life so adults are now getting illnesses that are child hood illnesses and the symptoms are much worse and can result in more serious effects. Most Doctors are not immunologists so they know as much as the general public. There has to be a reasoned review of vaccination rather than trolls that work for pharmaceutical companies providing information. All parents want their children to be safe and healthy so the problem is the pharmaceutical companies not being held to higher standards of safety and efficacy of vaccination.

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Coo R
Coo R14 days ago

Good start

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Bill Arthur
Bill Arthur16 days ago

For those who support no vaccines they should be able to support their beliefs with hard facts and evidence but unfortunately for them that evidence is lacking. If they are so sure of the 'cures' they believe in or that they will not become infected then they should be the ones to look after those who are sick with preventable diseases and then we will see how things work out. As for not vaccinating your children then YOU should be held responsible when those children become ill and if the worst happens then YOU should spend time incarcerated for negligence in raising your children, perhaps having those children taken away and placed in a safe home

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Lisa M
Lisa M17 days ago

Thanks.

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