Facebook Urged to Combat Vaccine Disinformation

NEW YORK – On Thursday, July 29, New York Attorney General Letitia James continued the fight against disinformation that has been amplified on social media platforms during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Leading a coalition of advocates in the Latino community, Attorney General James today sent a letter to Facebook, urging the company to address and dispel harmful and inaccurate myths about the virus and the available vaccines, which has resulted in vaccine hesitancy among Facebook users. The Latino community, in particular, has been targeted by inaccurate information about the vaccine, which has led to vaccination rates nearly 45 percent lower than some other ethnic groups. Vaccine hesitancy is even higher among individuals who primarily speak Spanish.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread across the nation and unvaccinated communities, particularly the Latino community, see the worst of the disease, Facebook and other powerful social media companies must choose lives over profits and take real action to combat the spread of destructive lies,” said Attorney General James. “As we near the fall and more New Yorkers begin to move to indoor activities again, it is vital that we encourage those who have not yet been vaccinated to take that step. But the constant barrage of inaccurate information being shared on Facebook has led to vaccination rates in the Latino community barely surpassing 15 percent. Neither language nor ethnicity should be a barrier to receiving accurate information about life-saving medical care. We’re calling on Facebook to take responsibility for its role in allowing these dangerous lies to continue to spread, and to do more to combat this disinformation. We must encourage all, especially our most vulnerable communities, to get vaccinated.”

In today’s letter, Attorney General James leads the coalition of advocates in asserting that low vaccination rates, specifically in the Latino community, are due to misinformation circulating on social media, particularly on Facebook. They write, “Misinformation is undermining the country’s efforts to end the pandemic and exacerbating racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates. People are using social media platforms to disseminate not only misinformation but disinformation about vaccines, encouraging vaccine hesitancy among Americans. As new virus variants emerge and infection rates begin to rise again, it is critically important that social media companies take stronger action to combat misinformation and encourage vulnerable communities to get vaccinated.”

Specifically, Attorney General James and the coalition note, false information — much of which is written in Spanish — has circulated across the Latino community. This direct targeting of Latino and other Spanish-speaking communities has led to vaccination rates that remain extremely low. A little more than 15 percent of those who identify as Latino have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to nearly 60 percent of white, non-Hispanic people. A recent study found that over half of those who identify as Latino who have not yet been vaccinated are concerned about the vaccines’ safety and efficacy; among Spanish-speaking people, this number increases to 67 percent. Further, according to one study, Facebook is more likely to flag and place a warning label on false information in English than the same information in Spanish. This has helped contribute to the fact that nearly 40 percent of Latino respondents said they had been exposed to material that led them to believe the COVID-19 vaccines are neither safe nor effective.

Attorney General James and the coalition are calling on Facebook to do more to stop the spread of false and inaccurate information about COVID-19 and the available vaccines that target the Latino community. Specifically, they request that Facebook share its policies and procedures regarding misinformation targeted towards the Latino community, including what tools Facebook uses to monitor Spanish-language and Latino-targeted misinformation regarding the COVID-19 virus and vaccines across its platforms, including on WhatsApp and Instagram. The letter also requests information regarding any initiatives that Facebook has underway to amplify evidence-based and scientifically-accurate material to Latino users.

Joining Attorney General James in sending today’s letter are the advocacy groups Bronx Chamber of Commerce; Capital District Latinos; Dominican Women’s Development Center; El Puente; Emerald Isle Immigration Center; Good Old Lower East Side, Inc.; Health and Welfare Council of Long Island; Hispanic Federation; Ibero Rochester; Make the Road New York; Mixteca Organization, Inc.; Mohawk Valley Latino Association; New York Communities for Change; New York Immigration Coalition; OLA of Eastern Long Island; R.A.I.N. Home Attendant Services, Inc.; Salvadoran American Chamber of Commerce; Spanish Action League of Onondaga County, Inc. – La Liga; Spanish Speaking Eldery Council-RAICES, Inc.; St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction; UPROSE; and Urban Health Plan.

“Information is power and the truth is that vaccines are widely proven to be safe and effective by the scientific community,” said U.S. Representative Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07). “We must, however, understand that vaccine hesitancy is real and especially prevalent among Latinos. It is our responsibility to ensure that people are making the decision to get vaccinated based on facts, not disinformation. That’s why I’m proud to support Attorney General James’ effort to hold Facebook accountable to root out disinformation and myths around the vaccine. As the Delta variant surges, getting vaccinated could not be more critical.”

“As New York became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned the value of trusting science and public health officials to guide our recovery from the worst depths of the pandemic to our recovery and rebuilding,” said U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat (NY-13). “Since the early days of the pandemic, social media platforms have been used to spread false, incorrect, or incomplete information with ruthless efficiency unabated.

Minority communities were hardest hit by the virus and our communities were inundated with misleading information that undoubtedly led to higher rates of infection, greater uncertainty and vaccine hesitancy, and, ultimately, the tragic loss of life that could have been prevented. We have made tremendous progress in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and must ensure that the communities most severely and disproportionately impacted by the virus are not the targets of yet further scams and fraud. I am proud to join Attorney General James today to demand greater accountability from Facebook and other tech giants to help debunk myths and stop the spread of misinformation, and ensure our communities have access to reliable and accurate information as quickly as it becomes available.”

“As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in communities with low vaccination rates, everyone must do their part to fight vaccine misinformation, including social media platforms where misinformation is rampant,” said U.S. Representative Ritchie Torres (NY-15).

“Misinformation and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine must be stopped in their tracks so that Latinos can have access to accurate information about the shot. I applaud Attorney General James for leading this letter to Facebook in the hopes that the company will take the necessary steps to flag misinformation and provide Latinos and Spanish-language users with helpful tools that can improve vaccination rates in those communities.”

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