With a coronavirus vaccine around the corner in the United States, Facebook will step up its efforts to remove false claims about vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts, the company said Thursday.

The company said it will remove false claims that could include misinformation about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines. It also will remove specific conspiracy theories, such as baseless claims that vaccines contain microchips or that certain populations will be forced to be vaccinated.

The company already prohibits misinformation related to the coronavirus, as well as advertising opposing vaccinations, so most false claims about vaccines would already have effectively been prohibited on both Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram.

Facebook has long struggled to balance free speech on its platform with eliminating dangerous or damaging misinformation. It has hired thousands of content moderators and developed algorithms to better police its sites. This year, it has also taken a more aggressive stance, prohibiting segments of misinformation like that regarding the coronavirus and even banning political advertising around the election in an effort to stifle false claims of victory and other potential problems.

Social media, and Facebook in particular, is host to many large and enthusiastic communities that oppose vaccines. Facebook allows such groups to proliferate on the grounds that people should be able to express their views on social media.

Some of the anti-vaccination groups have also become hubs for misinformation about the coronavirus. When the human rights organization Avaaz researched the Facebook pages that were the biggest sources of misinformation on Facebook about the coronavirus through May 2020, at least three of them were known groups that oppose vaccines.

Anti-vaccination groups were also involved in the ReOpen movement to protest pandemic shutdowns across the country this spring.

Even when Facebook is willing to remove the most problematic groups, they have found ways to come back.

Last year, the company took down the page for a leading anti-vaccination community, Natural News, on the grounds that the group, which had millions of followers, was violating the company’s rules about spam. But Natural News created groups with other names, forcing Facebook to ban the Natural News domain, which automatically blocked people from sharing links to websites associated with the group.

In November, Facebook suspended Larry Cook, a prominent figure in the anti-vaccine community who created the Stop Mandatory Vaccination page on Facebook.


Larry Cook was suspended in November. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said it was this month.