Facebook is under pressure to prevent anti-vaccination groups from spreading false information about the dangers of life-saving vaccines, while selling unfounded alternative treatments, such as high doses of vitamin C.

The so-called "anti-vaxxers" operate on Facebook in closed groups, where members must be pre-approved. By prohibiting access to others, they are able to serve misinformation undiluted without difficulty.

The groups are big and sophisticated. Stop compulsory vaccination to more than 150,000 approved members. Vitamin C against the damage caused by the vaccine says that high doses of vitamin can "heal" people from the damage caused by the vaccine, even if the vaccines are safe.

Health experts are calling on Facebook to do more to counter these echo chambers. Wendy Sue Swanson, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said: "Facebook should give priority to managing the threat to human health when lies and misinformation are shared. It's not just a self-destructive act, it's a collective harm. "

Swanson recently met Facebook's strategists and voiced his concerns. "Parents deserve the truth. If they are being served something that is not true, it will probably increase their level of anxiety and fear, as well as their potential adoption of vaccines, which is dangerous, "he said. she said.

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Fiona O 'Leary, an activist for autism and anti-pseudo-science activist, called Facebook to block anti-vaccine groups. "They will not close the closed groups, I would like to see a Facebook monitoring body that will remove the wrong information that harms children," she said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has strongly criticized the threat posed by Facebook groups, saying that "reluctance to vaccinate" – the reluctance to vaccinate – is one of the top 10 threats to global health. 2019. WHO estimates that 30% worldwide increase in measles, a highly contagious disease that can cause deafness, inflammation of the brain, pneumonia and death, especially in children .

Last month, Washington State imposed an emergency after 48 people contracted measles. Most of those infected were unvaccinated and less than 10 years old.

Dr. Noni MacDonald, a professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, who has worked as a WHO immunization consultant, said asked why Facebook had not been forced by stringent controls against misinformation of pharmaceutical companies. "We do not let big pharmaceutical companies, big agrifood chains or big radio chains do that, so why should we let this happen in this room?"

She added, "When a pharmaceutical company publishes a drug in the official media, it can not tell you something wrong, otherwise it will be prosecuted. So why is it different? Why is it allowed?

In the United States, measles outbreaks are becoming more and more of a concern, and closed Facebook anti-vaccination groups are increasingly in the spotlight. The Guardian had access to some of the groups, finding them invaded by pseudo-science.

Automatic Facebook Filling Suggestions for "vacci".

Automatic Facebook Filling Suggestions for "vacci". Photography: Facebook

One group, vitamin C and orthomolecular medicine for optimal health, tells its users that this is "not an anti-vax group". Its leader, Katie Gironda, said: "This group must remain neutral on the subject of the vaccine."

However, anyone eligible to be part of this closed group of about 49,000 approved members will find an abundance of material involving vaccine safety. They will also find recommendations for alternative remedies that falsely claim to protect against diseases.

Gironda is listed on LinkedIn as the CEO of a Colorado online business selling high-dose vitamin C. Members of his closed group are encouraged to "shop now" – in one click, they are directly linked to his company, Revitalize Wellness.

The site sells vitamin C powder in bulk. Clients are encouraged to give children aged 2 to 3 grams a day while the recommended daily intake is 15 mg. Bags of 24 pounds of powder cost $ 432.

Revitalize Wellness has a disclaimer stating that its products "are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent disease". But in a conversation with members of his closed Facebook group, Gironda gives the opposite advice.

"Vitamin C has an incredible track record in fighting the same diseases that the vaccines were made for," she wrote.

In another entry, she says, "I think the disadvantages outweigh the benefits of vaccines … By greed, they have become a weapon. As long as they are no longer safe and not motivated by money, I will avoid all vaccines. "

Gironda is also listed as the administrator of a separate Facebook group called Vitamin C Against Vaccine Damage. She welcomed the new approved members of the group with this statement: "The science and experience of a large number of people has proven that vaccines CAN harm the body … Vitamin C is the safest and most the most effective to protect themselves from harm for those who are mandated. vaccinated."

After the Guardian contacted Gironda, the status of the Vitamin C group against the damage caused by the vaccine went from closed to secret. This put him in an even more encircled category that completely masks the group from the point of view of non-members by removing it from Facebook searches.

Facebook has a moral responsibility to do something – this misinformation has the potential to kill children

David Robert Grimes

In closed group discussions, members often express incorrect information, reinforced by their peers. In January, a woman announced that she was living "near this big measles epidemic". She asked her colleagues, "What should I do to make my children better protected?"

Another member gave the following advice: "Get full of vitamin A. an outbreak of measles sensitivity in people with low vitamin A content".

In December, a Canadian mother wrote to one of the groups, describing herself as "a mom for the first time with a 6-month-old girl totally devoid of vax. My daughter is sick, I am so upset and worried. I have always felt confident in my decision not to vax but I am worried about what she could have contacted. [sic]. "

Another member replied, "The baby needs a vitamin C IV."

David Robert Grimes, a physicist specializing in the fight against science fiction, said that vitamin C would not "protect" against measles. "Vitamin C does nothing for vaccination."

Grimes said that he had repeatedly reported anti-vaccination groups to Facebook, with no result. "Facebook has a moral responsibility to do something – this misinformation has the potential to kill children."

The Guardian told Gironda that misinformation about vaccines could put children's lives at risk and that vitamin C was not an effective alternative. In an email she said: "Revitalize Wellness maintains a neutral position on vaccines. We make every effort to maintain this neutral position in our Facebook group. "

She said she was a fan of the "vitamin C pioneers," citing Dr. Linus Pauling, Dr. Frederick Klenner, Dr. Robert F Cathcart, Dr. Irwin Stone, and Dr. Thomas Levy. She added, "There will always be controversy about the effectiveness of vitamin C"

Measles was declared eliminated by the US authorities in 2000 through the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. But since then, the fraudulent exploits of the discredited British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, have sown doubt in the minds of many parents on a connection between MMR and autism – despite numerous studies that have denied the link .

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that about 100,000 US children under the age of two are absolutely unvaccinated, four times more than in 2001.

Paradoxically, pressure on Facebook to erase its platform of inaccurate information comes as company CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are actively funding a $ 3 billion effort to "cure all diseases ". One of the major components of their mission is to develop new vaccines.

Facebook is increasingly engaged in the fight against misinformation that causes "real harm". Yet, despite the health risks, anti-vaccination propaganda is currently not treated as a violation of the content rules.

The Guardian has asked Facebook to respond to the proliferation of misinformation about vaccines on its platform, but the company has not responded.

In addition to hosting many closed anti-vaccination groups, Facebook has garnered thousands of advertising dollars from those who specifically target parents with scary, often scary messages designed to undermine confidence in vaccines. Mandatory Stop Vaccination has promoted such extreme publicity that it has been censored by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of the United Kingdom.

The group later told ASA, According to the story of the association's debates, it "targeted users interested in parenthood", with the aim of "raising parents' concerns before choosing to vaccinate their children".

Facebook has also accepted advertising revenue from Vax Truther, Anti-Vaxxer, Vaccines Revealed and Michigan for Vaccine Choice, among others.

After publication, Facebook provided a statement to the Guardian. A spokesman said, "We have a set of community standards that describe what is allowed and what is not allowed on Facebook. We work hard to remove content that violates our rules, but we also give our community tools to control what they see, and we use Facebook to express and share perspectives with the community around them. If the posted content exceeds the limit and violates our rules, we will delete it as soon as we become aware of it. "