The world’s social media giants promised to crack down on harmful COVID-19 misinformation that has proliferated since the pandemic began, but a CBC Marketplace investigation found that when problematic posts were flagged, most weren’t labelled or removed.
Marketplace producers, between Feb. 3 and Feb. 16, combed through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter — using the user tool to flag and report more than 800 posts that breach each company’s policies that cover, among other things, posting misinformation.
The result: 12 per cent of the posts were labelled with warnings or taken down entirely. That number jumped to 53 per cent per cent only after Marketplace journalists identified themselves and shared the findings directly with the companies.
WATCH | Full Marketplace report on COVID-19 misinformation:
“Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have become the primary superspreaders of misinformation in our world,” said Imran Ahmed, founder of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a non-profit based out of Washington, D.C., which Marketplace collaborated with on this project. “That is a shocking failure to act on misinformation that was handed to them on a silver platter.”
Of the 832 posts Marketplace flagged, 391 came from Facebook, 166 from Instagram, 173 from Twitter and 102 from YouTube. The posts had a combined 1.5 million likes and 120,000 comments and covered a range of COVID-19-related topics, but generally circled back to a few central themes: vaccines are dangerous, COVID-19 isn’t and don’t trust authorities.
Partly fuelled by social media, partly fuelled by the COVID-19 conspiracy movement’s effective persuasion tactics, misinformation has contributed to anti-lockdown sentiment, COVID-19 denial and vaccine hesitancy, said Ahmed.
Ahmed says companies such as Facebook are motivated to keep users sharing more content, not less. The more you scroll and the more users consume, the more these companies make from advertisements, which is where most of their revenue is generated, he said.
Marketplace was interested in seeing if the social media giants had made improvements since a 2020 CCDH study, which found the companies only acted on five per cent of misinformation it reported. The CCDH cross-referenced and analyzed CBC’s data to ensure problem posts did breach company policies for Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, took action on about 18 per cent of the posts flagged on both platforms. That number jumped to about 67 per cent after Marketplace shared its findings.
One of the posts that is still up on Facebook weeks later shows a picture of Bill Gates with the headline: “New vaccine causes sterility in 97% of women!” There is no evidence that links coronavirus vaccines to sterility.
Another post shows a homeopathic product, which purportedly “enhanced immunity” against COVID-19 and promised “reduced frequency and shorter duration of symptoms.” It sells for $49.99 US.
There are no homeopathic remedies that can cure or alleviate COVID-19 symptoms.
“Completely ridiculous and a little bit infuriating,” Timothy Caulfield, a health law and policy expert at the University of Alberta, said after he was shown the post. “Homeopathic is an easy one because it’s completely scientifically implausible. That one is so clearly wrong and harmful it should be taken down immediately.”
Caulfield says self-reporting tools on social media must lead to action otherwise people will stop using them, but understands the difficulty of monitoring platforms that have billions of users.
“The numbers of messages that have to be evaluated are just huge so I think that is one of the great challenges of social media: how can you meaningfully monitor all of these posts, but we know we need to,” said Caulfield. “The challenge is there but the harm is real.”
Over the course of Marketplace‘s test, Facebook did take down a number of prominent accounts on its platforms, including Robert Kennedy Jr.’s Instagram account, which had close to a million followers — the result of a new policy in February that outright prohibited the posting of any anti-vaccination or COVID misinformation. RFK Jr.’s Facebook account, and the Facebook and Instagram accounts of his group, Children’s Health Defense — with a combined following of close to 700,000 — are still up.
The company disputed that some of the posts Marketplace flagged violated its protocols, and said in an emailed statement that it had “removed millions of pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram that violate our COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation policies — including two million since February alone.”
YouTube, Twitter performed worst
Of the four platforms Marketplace tested, Twitter and YouTube took the least action.
Twitter initially left up all but two of the 173 posts Marketplace reported — including one by a prominent anti-vaccination leader that called the COVID-19 vaccine a “military-grade, deadly bio-weapon.” The post yielded more than 2,100 likes and 1,400 retweets.
While Twitter has since removed 18 per cent of the posts Marketplace reported, the company would not say why it initially left up the majority of flagged posts and said it doesn’t “directly comment on third-party studies.” It pointed to its updated policies, which include a five-strike system for users that would lead to an account deletion.
YouTube didn’t take down any of the flagged videos until Marketplace shared its findings. After that, it took down 34 per cent of the reported videos.
But many still remain — including one from a known conspiracist telling his audience that people are sending him information “telling me causes of [COVID] death have been altered.” He said he is also receiving information about, “hospitals that are completely dead, nothing happening in there,” referencing a viral trend early in the pandemic where people would record videos of empty hospitals to try to back up their claims that COVID-19 wasn’t real.
The video has over 700,000 views.
YouTube said in a statement that only some of the videos Marketplace reported violated its policies, and said that since February 2020, it had “removed more than 800,000 videos for violations of our COVID-19 misinformation policies.”
Ahmed says CBC’s results suggest YouTube, Twitter and Facebook may not be paying as close attention to misinformation until news organizations or legislators put them under the microscope.
“What’s really great about this study is that this tells us what they’re doing when they think no one is watching.”
- Watch full episodes of Marketplace on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.
Transplant programs reviewing policy on recipients being vaccinated against COVID-19 – Squamish Chief
Transplant centres in Western Canada have stopped short of requiring organ recipients to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but they say conversations about such a policy are ongoing.
Some centres in other parts of the country, including Ontario, are requiring proof of vaccination before a patient is approved for the life-saving surgery.
BC Transplant, located in Vancouver, said COVID-19 vaccination is not required to be eligible for a transplant, but programs in the province are actively reviewing it.
“The transplant programs are strongly encouraging all pre-transplant patients to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as they do with many other vaccine-preventable infections,” the agency said in a statement.
Similarly, Alberta Health Services told The Canadian Press it has long been a requirement that patients preparing for transplant have all vaccines to help maximize their chances of success post-transplant. It notes, however, it’s only a practice guideline at this point.
Saskatchewan has also not made any changes.
“Saskatchewan’s organ transplant teams are strongly supportive of all recipients and donors having COVID vaccinations, and the issue of requiring these vaccinations in recipients is actively being discussed,” Lisa Thomson, a spokeswoman for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said in a statement.
The Ajmera Transplant Centre at Toronto’s University Health Network recently announced its decision to implement a policy that requires patients who may benefit from receiving a transplant be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before they are listed for solid organ transplant.
However, there may be exemptions for medical reasons or in cases of urgent need of a transplant.
“We all recognize that (COVID-19) is a massive, massive risk factor. The prudent and ethical thing to do to protect patients and to protect each other, and show fidelity and respect to those organ donors, is to require this (policy) to be a price of pass and go,” UHN president and chief executive officer Kevin Smith said in an interview.
The decision to enact the policy is based on a few factors, according to the organization.
It said transplant patients are severely immunocompromised because of lifelong treatment to prevent rejection of a new organ. If someone who is immunocompromised gets COVID-19, they are at a very high risk of being hospitalized or placed on ventilation.
Unvaccinated recipients could also pose a risk to other patients post-surgery. Transplant recipients have high health needs after their transplants and require frequent visits to a hospital. These individuals may pose a greater risk of spreading illness, should they get infected, to other immunocompromised patients in an inpatient or outpatient setting.
“Thinking about an outbreak in an environment like that would be just a massacre,” Smith said.
Infectious disease experts noted this type of policy isn’t new.
“There’s just requirements pre-transplant in order to be eligible for listing. Some of it is complying with some of the medical measures to see if patients would be eligible,” said Dr. Dima Kabbani, an assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alberta.
Kabbani added pre-transplant vaccine recommendations are already in place for hepatitis B, pneumococcal disease and influenza.
Manitoba’s Shared Health said there is no requirement for Manitobans awaiting a transplant to be vaccinated for COVID-19, but noted patients may be required to show proof of vaccinationif there are requirements elsewhere.Kidney transplants are performed in the province while all other organ transplants take place in other provinces.
Jessica Bailey, 35, is living with stage five kidney disease and awaiting a transplant in Saskatoon.
The government has postponed surgeries as the province deals with a devastating fourth wave of COVID-19.
Bailey said she is not in favour of requiring recipients to be vaccinated against COVID-19. She said she is double vaccinated but believes recipients should still have the choice on whether they want the vaccine.
She does encourage patients who may be on the fence to look at the bigger picture.
“If you can get a transplant just by getting the vaccine, go and do it. Pick and choose your battles,” Bailey said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 15, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
Health Unit Gearing Up For Flu Shot Program – ckdr.net
With the colder months not far away, the Northwestern Health Unit is preparing for their annual flu shot program.
“The Northwestern Health Unit will begin to offer the flu vaccine in November and we will inform the public when they can start booking appointments,” says Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kit Young Hoon. “As always the influenza vaccine will also be available at many pharmacies and from other health care providers.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada only reported 79 lab confirmed cases of influenza in 2020 compared to 54-thousand cases just the year before.
The drop is largely attributed to strong public health measures and lockdowns due to COVID-19, but officials say there could be more documented cases this year.
“Influenza vaccination were relatively high last year so we’re working off a similar assumption for this year that they will be high,” says Dr. Young Hoon. “I believe we will have enough vaccine to provide to whoever wants to be vaccinated and we’re prepping to have a relatively high rate this year.”
U.S. to lift curbs from Nov. 8 for vaccinated foreign travelers – White House
The White House on Friday said it will lift COVID-19 travel restrictions for fully vaccinated foreign nationals effective Nov. 8, ending historic restrictions that barred much of the world from the United States.
Restrictions on non-U.S. citizens were first imposed on air travelers from China in January 2020 by then-President Donald Trump and then extended to dozens of other countries, without any clear metrics for how and when to lift them.
Curbs on non-essential travelers at land borders with Mexico and Canada have been in place since March 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reuters first reported Friday’s announcement of the Nov. 8 starting date earlier in the day.
U.S. airline, hotel and cruise industry stocks rose on the news, including American Airlines, up 1.9%; Marriott International Inc, up 2.2%; and Carnival Corp, up 1.3%.
The United States had lagged many other countries in lifting such restrictions, and allies welcomed the move. The U.S. restrictions have barred travelers from most of the world, including tens of thousands of foreign nationals with relatives or business links in the United States.
The White House on Tuesday announced it would lift restrictions at its land borders and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico for fully vaccinated foreign nationals in early November. They are similar but not identical to requirements announced last month for international air travelers.
Unvaccinated visitors will still be barred from entering the United States from Canada or Mexico at land borders.
Canada on Aug. 9 began allowing fully vaccinated U.S. visitors for non-essential travel.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Reuters last week the United States will accept the use by international visitors of COVID-19 vaccines authorized by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization.
The White House, which held a meeting late Thursday to finalize the Nov. 8 date, still faces some remaining questions, including how and what exemptions the Biden administration will grant to the vaccine requirements. Children under 18, for example, are largely expected to be exempt from the requirements, an official said.
U.S. Travel Association Chief Executive Roger Dow said in a statement that the Nov. 8 date “is critically important for planning – for airlines, for travel-supported businesses, and for millions of travelers worldwide who will now advance plans to visit the United States once again.”
The White House announced on Sept. 20 that the United States would lift restrictions on air travelers from 33 countries in early November. It did not specify the date at the time.
Starting Nov. 8, the United States will admit fully vaccinated foreign air travelers from the 26 so-called Schengen countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, as well as Britain, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. The unprecedented U.S. restrictions have barred non-U.S. citizens who were in those countries within the past 14 days.
The United States has allowed foreign air travelers from more than 150 countries throughout the pandemic, a policy that critics said made little sense because some countries with high COVID-19 rates were not on the restricted list, while some on the list had the pandemic more under control.
The White House said last month it would apply vaccine requirements to foreign nationals traveling from all other countries.
Non-U.S. air travelers will need to show proof of vaccination before boarding a flight, and will need to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Foreign visitors crossing a land border will not need to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.
The new rules do not require foreign visitors or Americans entering the country to go into quarantine.
Americans traveling overseas must still show proof of a recent negative COVID-19, and unvaccinated Americans will face stricter COVID-19 testing requirements. They will also be subject to restrictions in the countries they plan to visit, which may include quarantines.
The CDC plans to soon issue new rules on contact tracing for international air travelers.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by John Stonestreet, Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)
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