Facebook Vaccine Information Groups Find Themselves in Moderation Gray Area
‘I’m concerned that Facebook could misinterpret what we’re about’
Three years ago, Kate Bilowitz, a real estate worker with an armchair curiosity about health misinformation, created a Facebook group for vaccine discourse. Vaccine Talk: An Evidence Based Discussion Forum was created as a good-faith space for conversations about vaccines. The group’s original tagline stated that it was “a forum for both pro- and anti-vaxxers,” but beneath the hood it relied on dozens of moderators and admins to keep the community free of false medical claims, eventually attracting 54,000 members.
“It’s one of the few places on Facebook where both sides, and people in the middle, can come together and discuss [their vaccine beliefs] and it’s gonna be civil,” Bilowitz told OneZero.
On Sunday, however, the group was named by CNN Business in a story about misleading vaccine information on Facebook. The story was later updated, and it no longer mentions Vaccine Talk. But the community has since changed its name to exclude the line “a forum for both pro- and anti-vaxxers.”
“I’m concerned that Facebook could misinterpret what we’re about,” Bilowitz said. That misinterpretation, she fears, could result in the shuttering of responsible forums where Facebook users can ask questions about vaccine science.
Since the start of vaccine distribution last December, OneZero has identified dozens of Facebook groups encompassing thousands of users dedicated to discussing the science of vaccines and people’s vaccine experiences. These groups span a spectrum of beliefs. At one end are communities like Vaccine Talk, which seek to empower members with evidence-based resources and provide a welcoming environment for people with fears and concerns about a subject they may know little about. At the other, staunch anti-vax groups and pages are actively mobilizing users into real-world acts of opposition.
“It’s one of the few places on Facebook where both sides, and people in the middle, can come together and discuss [their vaccine beliefs].”