Facebook today banned misinformation about vaccines from its platform, following years of unfounded claims spreading and multiplying on the world’s biggest social network.

The platform has been a breeding ground and echo chamber for anti-vaccination theories and more recently COVID-19 misinformation. But the company has until recently largely refused to intervene in user posts, focusing instead on the validity of claims in paid advertisements.

But in December Facebook began removing user posts that had been debunked by health experts including claims facemasks did not help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and that vaccines contained microchips.

In an update to its policy on COVID-19 misinformation, Facebook will now go a step further, implementing a wider ban on vaccine misinformation.

From today the social media giant will remove users’ posts on Facebook and Instagram that claim: COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured, vaccines are not effective at preventing the disease they are meant to protect against, it’s safer to get the disease than to get the vaccine, or vaccines are toxic, dangerous or cause autism.

Today’s expansion of banned posts is significant because Facebook will now actively monitor user groups and pages where vaccine misinformation spreads rather than blocking ads that have false claims about vaccines.

“We will begin enforcing this policy immediately, with a particular focus on Pages, groups and accounts that violate these rules, and we’ll continue to expand our enforcement over the coming weeks,” a company blog post said.

“Groups, Pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that repeatedly share these debunked claims may be removed altogether.”

According to Facebook, user posts about COVID-19 or vaccines that do not violate these policies will still be eligible for review by Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers, and if they are rated false, they will be labelled and demoted rather than removed.

Australia’s vaccine program will begin in “early 2021, according to the current government advice, with 1.4 million doses for quarantine and health workers, as well as aged and disability care residents and staff.

The Prime Minister has urged Australians to avoid Facebook for information on the vaccine program, except for official government accounts, following his own backbencher spreading spurious claims on the platform.

Facebook also announced further steps to promote authoritative health information as countries deploy their vaccine programs today. In addition to removing false claims about vaccines, Facebook will promote information on vaccine sites, subsidise advertising of health ministries, NGOs and UN agencies, and share data on vaccine delivery.

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