Facebook ‘tried to censor posts about vaccine hesitancy’, according to leaked documents


Whistleblowers from inside Facebook say that the social network is censoring skeptics of the COVID-19 vaccine by demoting user comments by way of an algorithm that calculates a ‘vaccine hesitancy score,’ Project Veritas reports.

James O’Keefe, the head of Project Veritas, revealed on Fox News that two anonymous Facebook employees leaked documents showing that the company was testing a ‘beta’ version of the algorithm to target anti-vaxxers.

The leaked documents purport to show that the beta version was being tested on 1.5 per cent of some 3.8 billion users of Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram, around the world.

‘Based on that VH score, we will demote or leave the comment alone depending on the content within the comment,’ one of the anonymous whistleblowers told Project Veritas.

James O’Keefe, the head of Project Veritas, interviewed an anonymous whistleblower who claimed to provide documents showing that Facebook was demoting or removing content from those who expressed skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccine

O'Keefe (above) appeared on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News on Monday to break the story

O’Keefe (above) appeared on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News on Monday to break the story

DailyMail.com has reached out to Facebook seeking comment.

In a statement to Project Veritas, a spokesman said: ‘We proactively announced this policy on our company blog and also updated our help center with this information.’ 

Project Veritas say they obtained the leaked documents from whistleblowers.

The title of the document reads ‘Vaccine Hesitancy Comment Demotion.’

In its ‘executive summary’ section, it states that the goal is to ‘drastically reduce user exposure to vaccine hesitancy (VH) in comments.’

The document states that ‘reducing the visibility of these comments represents another significant opportunity for us to remove barriers to vaccination that users on the platform may potentially encounter.’

Facebook’s aim is to ‘decrease in other engagement of VH comments including crate, likes, reports [and] replies.’

‘The narrative [is] get the vaccine, the vaccine is good for you, everyone should get it,’ the documents state.

‘If you don’t, you will be singled out as an enemy of society.’

Project Veritas unveiled documents it claims to have obtained from the whistleblowers. The title of the document reads ‘Vaccine Hesitancy Comment Demotion.’ In its ‘executive summary’ section, it states that the goal is to ‘drastically reduce user exposure to vaccine hesitancy (VH) in comments.’

Project Veritas unveiled documents it claims to have obtained from the whistleblowers. The title of the document reads ‘Vaccine Hesitancy Comment Demotion.’ In its ‘executive summary’ section, it states that the goal is to ‘drastically reduce user exposure to vaccine hesitancy (VH) in comments.’

The company documents recommend ‘action mapping’ which involves either demoting or outright removing comments depending on the severity of the violation, according to Project Veritas

The company documents recommend ‘action mapping’ which involves either demoting or outright removing comments depending on the severity of the violation, according to Project Veritas

One whistleblower told O’Keefe that Facebook wants to ‘build a community where everyone complies – not where people can have an open discourse and dialogue about the most personal and private and intimate decisions.’

‘It doesn’t match the narrative,’ the whistleblower said.

‘The narrative being, get the vaccine, the vaccine is good for you. Everyone should get it.

‘And if you don’t, you will be singled out.’

The system set up by the social network ranks users into tiers that grade comments based on the degree to which they are aimed at dissuading others from getting inoculated, according to Project Veritas.

‘Tier 0’ is assigned to any comments that ‘coordinate harm’ by ‘promoting interference with the administration of a vaccine, including an event, group, page, account, etc dedicated to this purpose.’

That tier is also assigned to any comment that ‘advocates’ or ‘promotes’ that ‘others not get a vaccine.’

‘Tier 1’ is for any comments that express ‘alarmism and criticism’ of the vaccines, including ‘disparaging others on the basis of their choice to vaccinate.’

‘T1’ is also assigned to comments that ‘suggest or imply that vaccines are unsafe, ineffective, sacrilegious, or irrelevant.’

‘Tier 2’ comments are those that offer ‘indirect discouragement’ against taking the vaccine by speculating on ‘unproven or severe side effects or death.’

The company documents recommend ‘action mapping’ which involves either demoting or outright removing comments depending on the severity of the violation, according to Project Veritas.

‘What’s remarkable about these private documents that Facebook has not wanted you to see until tonight is that ‘Tier 2′ [violation] says even if the facts are true that you will be targeted and demoted – your comments will be targeted and demoted,’ O’Keefe told Fox News.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (pictured on March 25) has come under pressure to crack down on vaccine-related misinformation on his platform

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (pictured on March 25) has come under pressure to crack down on vaccine-related misinformation on his platform

‘They don’t want you to know that they are doing this. And this is the town square as you all know. We are trying to retake our town square,’ he said.

‘They are demoting your comments and de-boosting you on Facebook without you knowing that they are doing that.

‘And they are obviously terrified of this report because they are responding to Project Veritas before they would attack us or ignore us.

‘There is more to come.’

On its company blog, Facebook acknowledges that it reduces the visibility of content that may not violate company policy but does ‘discourage someone from getting vaccinated.’

In March, Facebook announced that it would be adding informational labels to posts about vaccines as it expands efforts to counter COVID-19-related misinformation flourishing on its platforms.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post that labels will contain ‘credible information’ about the vaccines from the World Health Organization. 

They will be in English and five other languages, with more languages added in coming weeks.

‘For example, we’re adding a label on posts that discuss the safety of COVID-19 vaccines that notes COVID-19 vaccines go through tests for safety and effectiveness before they’re approved,’ Zuckerberg said.

The social network also added a tool to help get users vaccinated by connecting them to information about where and when they can get their shot.

A digital sign is seen above at Facebook's corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, California on October 23, 2019

A digital sign is seen above at Facebook’s corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, California on October 23, 2019

Facebook and Instagram have been criticized for allowing anti-vaccination propaganda to spread and for being woefully slow in weeding out the misinformation, often with fact-checks, labels and other restrained measures.

For years, Facebook and other social platforms have allowed anti-vaccination propaganda to flourish, making it difficult to stamp out such sentiments now.

And their efforts to weed out other types of COVID-19 misinformation — often with fact-checks, informational labels and other restrained measures, has been woefully slow.

The Associated Press recently identified more than a dozen Facebook pages and Instagram accounts, collectively boasting millions of followers, that have made false claims about the COVID-19 vaccine or discouraged people from taking it.

Some of these pages have existed for years. 

Why does Facebook still ban users from saying COVID is man-made? 

A fresh spotlight has been thrown on how tech giants police COVID ‘misinformation’ after Dr Antony Fauci questioned whether the virus was man-made in China – a sentiment banned across swathes of social media.

Facebook policies outlining what kinds of ‘misinformation’ its users cannot post about, specifically picks out theories that the virus was ‘man-made’ or ‘manufactured’ – the very theory Fauci was discussing.

At the same time, an Italian journalist claimed last week to have been censored by YouTube over a book which questions whether the virus was engineered in a Wuhan lab, despite America’s top disease expert saying it warrants investigation.

These inconsistencies beg the question whether social media’s ‘misinformation’ witch-hunt has gone too far in trying to prevent the spread of dangerous lies, and actually stifles productive debate instead.

Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti was banned from advertising his book questioning the origins of Covid and criticising China's response on Google - even as top US disease expert Anthony Fauci says it warrants further investigation

Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti was banned from advertising his book questioning the origins of Covid and criticising China’s response on Google – even as top US disease expert Anthony Fauci says it warrants further investigation

For example, on vaccines: A large number of Facebook policies deal with clear misinformation – such as outlawing claims that jabs contain ‘the mark of the beast’, or turn you into a monkey.

But the site also says it bans ‘claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill or seriously harm people (such as causing blood clots.)’

That is despite the fact that medical regulators in Europe and elsewhere have seen fit to put warnings on AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson jabs saying they can cause blood clots – albeit in vanishingly rare cases.

Meanwhile YouTube also has clear-cut policies banning untruths, such as saying prayer will cure the virus or that COVID isn’t real.

But the site’s policies ban posts questioning the efficacy of masks or debating lockdown measures – even though government guidance on both has changed many times since the start of the pandemic, largely thanks to debate about their benefits.

Separate rules on advertising on YouTube outlaw adverts around ‘sensitive events’ such as COVID, banning anything that ‘potentially profits’ from the event ‘without a benefit to users’ – though what exactly qualifies as a ‘benefit’ is not explained. 

It was those advertising rules that Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti fell foul of when adverts for his book – The Infinite Error: The Secret Story Of A Pandemic That Should Have Been Avoided – were ‘blacklisted’ from Google last week.

Google said the video violates the rules because it ‘displays speculative intent or lacks reasonable sensitivity around a global health crisis.’

But Elisabetta Sgarbi, whose company is publishing Gatti’s book on COVID, told Italian news agency Ansa: ‘There is a big difference between “gratuitous offense” and the right to criticize. 

‘[The book] documents the responsibilities of the Chinese regime, the allied governments and the WHO in the delayed response to the Covid-19 pandemic…  which should have avoided.

‘I hope that Google… can help encourage reflection and discussion on the health and human catastrophe that has hit the world.’

Gatti added: ‘I express my full solidarity with colleagues who have been or will be economically damaged, just for giving space to… my research. 

‘I hope that Google will revise its position as soon as possible. We already have to put up with the Chinese regime and the consequences of its failure to contain COVID. 

‘[Google’s action] it is yet another symptom of a very worrying drift.

‘Once once the infection is overcome with vaccines, as I write in my book, we will have to defend our democracies from totalitarianism and the digital monopoly.’

Other policies that might get adverts banned from Google are ones which ‘appear to profit from a tragic event with no discernible benefit to users’, adverts selling products ‘which may be in insufficient supply’, and those which ‘claim victims of a sensitive event were responsible for their own tragedy.’

Both Facebook and Google say the policies were created in response to the spread of misinformation as the pandemic spread, and aim to direct people towards reliable information and stop the spread of claims that could cause harm. 

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