The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Social media platforms should deny service to superspreaders of disinformation

A nurse loads a syringe with a coronavirus vaccine in Fairfax on Jan. 2.
A nurse loads a syringe with a coronavirus vaccine in Fairfax on Jan. 2. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Countering “bad information” with “good information,” as the Jan. 11 editorial “How to build faith in the vaccines” suggested, is one way to stop disinformation about the coronavirus vaccine from spreading. However, social media is not a level playing field — its algorithms prefer sensationalism over facts or public good.

A report we released in December found that during a private conference held last year, anti-vaccine leaders discussed a coordinated disinformation campaign, leveraging social media to increase distrust in the coronavirus vaccine and recruit others to their cause. The anti-vaccine industry sees this global public health tragedy, which has killed millions across the globe, as a market opportunity.

Their job is easier — to sow doubt by posing a torrent of questions based on false premises that overwhelm health professionals’ ability to fact-check. Tech companies benefit from traffic regardless of whether it serves the public good or reflects scientific facts.

Social media platforms have the responsibility to do more to stop the spread of anti-vaxxers’ malicious agenda by denying services to the superspreaders of disinformation. The majority of the online following for anti-vaxxers, 59 million large, follows accounts run by just 10 individuals. Remove these professional propagandists, and far fewer members of the public will be exposed to life-threatening lies.

Imran Ahmed, Washington

The writer is chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

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