At a panel discussion regarding misinformation on social media, Canada's top medical officer said that misinformation about vaccines shared online is partly at fault for the ongoing measles outbreaks in Canada and around the world.
Dr Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health told the panel that fake news and false information has contributed to the rise in measles cases around the world. She also blamed online bots for spreading this misinformation as well.
Tam said, "They are at play, for sure," referring to online, social media bots. She went on to say that "some of them can be very divisive in terms of increasing mistrust, trying to ... amplify the fact that there is an actual debate when there is no debate."
She also told the panel that sharing these types of things online can be very effective in causing parents to doubt the need for vaccines. Currently, in Canada Tam says this is a small group but the spread of misinformation could make it higher.
She said, "what we know is that people who outright refuse vaccines are a very small group, but we might be talking about a significant percentage of parents that have questions about vaccines — and we need to answer them. We need to give them the scientifically based, credible answer."
Unfortunately, according to Tam parents being misinformed online has already contributed to a rise in measles outbreaks, with a 300% increase in cases worldwide this year.
A number of those cases were in Canada, where unvaccinated travellers brought measles back here and it easily spread to others. So far there have been cases confirmed in Ontario and BC, where there was a massive outbreak with over 20 cases earlier this year.
Also present at the panel with Dr Tam was Kevin Chan, who's with Facebook Canada. He said their platform is working to stop the spread of misinformation about vaccines.
Chan told the panel, "what we want to be careful about is not over-rotating and actually making calls on people's opinions. That's very important. Facebook is a platform for all voices and we do want to make sure we preserve people's ability to have opinions and to share their opinions." He went on to say, "what we're going after is scientifically debunked information that could lead to real-world harm."
According to Chan, Facebook is working to make it so that this disproven information will not show up in search results on Facebook or Instagram.