If you’ve been anywhere near a television or the internet or your Facebook newsfeed, you’ve likely noticed the rise discussion around the anti-vaccination movement. In an effort to stop the spread of harmful and incorrect information on their platform, Pinterest has blocked all vaccine content. The ban is temporary while Pinterest figures out a more permanent solution to stop the spread of anti-vaccination content. As Ifeoma Ozoma, Pinterest’s manager of public policy and social impact, told the Wall Street Journal, “It’s better not to serve those results than to lead people down what is like a recommendation rabbit hole.”
Prior to the content block, a vaccine-related search on Pinterest primarily yielded anti-vaxx results, linking to sites and images cautioning people against vaccination. As the Journal reports, this information “contradict[s] established medical guidelines and research showing that vaccines are safe, Pinterest said.”
As a spokesperson for the platform also told Fortune, “If a search returns largely polluted results that violate our policies, we will stop serving the query, either temporarily or permanently. We started blocking certain searches related to vaccinations and cancer cures last year because results were leading to harmful misinformation.”
Now, if you try searching “vaccination,” “vaccine,” “antivax,” or “anti-vaccination” on Pinterst, you’ll come up with no results as well as a message that reads: “Pins about this topic often violate our community guidelines, so we're currently unable to show search results.” The message links out to the sites rules and guidelines. However, Gizmodo noted that there are still some loopholes in the search. Typing in “vax” lead them to links for both anti-vaccination and pro-vaccination articles.
The block unfortunately also applies to factual vaccine information. As Pinterest figures out how to stop anti-vax search results from dominating their platform, any pro-vaccine and medically accurate vaccine information will not appear on the site. Just to reiterate, per information from the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the medical community as a whole: vaccines are safe and help prevent the spread of disease.
Last year, a chicken pox outbreak hit an anti-vaccination community in North Carolina. At least 36 students became infected at the private school which has a high percentage of vaccination-exempt students. While there are some laws that require students to be vaccinated, exemptions based on religious and philosophical beliefs. Mississippi, West Virginia, and California are the only states with medical exemptions.
The current measles outbreak scattered across the country is not disconnected from the growing anti-vaccination movement. (However, the rise in measles globally has also been linked to lack of accessible healthcare world-wide.) Why are long eradicated diseases like the measles and mumps coming back? As Dr. Annabelle De St. Maurice, an expert on infectious diseases at U.C.L.A, told the New York Times, “In part due to the success of vaccines, people are not as familiar with these diseases, so they question their effectiveness.”
The anti-vaccination movement has gained so much momentum (and to a detrimental effect), the World Health Organization named anti-vaxxers a 2019 global health threat. “Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease,” the WHO post reads. “It currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved.” Climate change, HIV, and Ebola were among other global health threats listed by the WHO.
As a growing number of people get their news from social media (67 percent of Americans, per a 2017 Pew study), sites like Pinterest are recognizing the power the search results made available to their users. Perhaps it's for the greater good that Pinterest sticks to wedding inspiration and meal prep ideas.