Facebook launches ‘worldwide campaign’ to combat COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

Facebook announced Monday it would be launching the "largest worldwide campaign" to combat misinformation surrounding the coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccines.

The social media giant said it also aims to provide helpful information for its more than 2 billion users about vaccine eligibility, safety and relevant health updates.

As the drive to get the American public vaccinated gathers steam, Facebook said it aims to help people better understand the guidelines for vaccine rollouts.

More than 4 million more vaccinations were reported over the weekend, a significantly faster clip than in previous days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 1 in 10 Americans have now received at least one shot. But just 2.9% of the U.S. population have received their second dose, a long way from the 70% or more that experts say must be attained to reach herd immunity.

Facebook said that its initiative to provide vaccine information and to dispel myths would be four-fold. First, the company will be assisting users with finding vaccination locations, "similar to how we helped people find information about how to vote during elections."

FILE - In this photo illustration a Facebook logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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According to a company news release, starting this week, Facebook plans to feature links in its COVID-19 Information Center from accredited local, federal and global health websites "to help people understand whether they’re eligible to get vaccinated and how to do so."

Right now, the U.S. is in Phase 1 of vaccine rollouts, which includes groups 1a, 1b and 1c. The Phase 1a group consists of long-term care facility residents, skilled nurses and health care personnel. Phase 1b includes people aged 65-75 years or older and front-line essential workers. Phase 1c includes people ages 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions, according to the CDC.

Second, Facebook plans to give $120 million worth of free ad space on its platforms to "health ministries, NGOs and UN agencies" to disseminate COVID-19 vaccine and preventative health information.

Facebook also plans to provide "training and marketing support to help governments and health organizations move quickly and reach the right people with the latest vaccine information."

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The company said in its news release that it would be syndicating its COVID-19 Information Center to Instagram so users can access relevant and verified information on multiple platforms.

Facebook also highlighted its real-time data, saying countries are "leveraging our tools to support the COVID-19 response in their communities."

"We partnered with the government in Indonesia to create a helpline on WhatsApp that shares information on vaccine availability first with medical workers, and eventually with the general public. In just 5 days, 500,000 medical workers — out of 1.3 million in the country — accessed the service. Other governments and health authorities, including the South Africa government and the WHO, are starting to create similar helplines to provide the latest vaccine information," the news release stated.

To combat the lack of resources and to assist those living in the "social vulnerability index," Facebook plans to partner with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and AARP "to reach Native American communities, Black communities and Latinx communities, among others, with science and evidence-based content that addresses the questions and concerns these communities have."

Similarly, Google committed $150 million to promote coronavirus vaccine education and will open up Google spaces to serve as vaccination sites.

Third, Facebook and Instagram will expand efforts to remove any health misinformation and plans to share "effective vaccine delivery and educational efforts to build trust in COVID-19 vaccines" following a meeting with the World Health Organization on Monday.

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Facebook will continue removing false information such as, "claims that COVID-19 vaccines do not exist or have not been approved or claims that something other than a COVID-19 vaccine can vaccinate you against COVID-19."

The company posted a full list of false claims that it is targeting on its help center page.

Lastly, the company plans to collaborate with Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Group and the University of Maryland to understand the "symptoms people are experiencing, mask wearing behaviors and access to care," the news release stated.

Facebook is collecting information through surveys that both university research groups will be executing throughout the entirety of the vaccine rollouts as well as the ongoing pandemic.

"With over 50 million responses to date, the survey program is one of the largest ever conducted and has helped health researchers better monitor and forecast the spread of COVID-19. It’s also the only source of global data on mask wearing, which has helped public health officials around the world in their COVID-19 response efforts," according to the news release.

The CDC, as well as several medical journals, have released studies that prove mask-wearing is effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Understanding mask-wearing and social distancing behaviors throughout the country and their relation to hot-spots can help immensely with contact tracing for original coronavirus variants as well as mutated variants.

The data can also assist officials in adapting their health guidelines based on current outbreaks.

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"Data has proved critical in informing the fight against COVID-19. In 2020, we launched new datasets, maps and tools to support researchers, nonprofits and governments in their COVID-19 response, and in 2021, we’ll continue to provide helpful data and insights to understand vaccine attitudes, build trust in vaccines through reliable information and support vaccination efforts," Facebook’s news release stated.

Facebook’s campaign comes after Twitter announced in December that it had expanded existing rules to combat misleading tweets about COVID-19 vaccines and it will prioritize the "removal of the most harmful, misleading information" about the vaccines.

The Associated Press and FOX Business contributed to this report.