As social media and search platforms grapple with their role in helping anti-vaccine propaganda spread, Pinterest has opted to block vaccine-related searches entirely until it can come up with a better way to monitor posts.
“We are doing our best to remove bad content, but we know that there is bad content that we haven’t gotten to yet,” Ifeoma Ozoma, a public policy and social impact manager at Pinterest, told The Guardian. “We’re hoping that we can move from breaking the site to surfacing only good content. Until then, this is preferable.”
It’s not an entirely new practice for Pinterest, which said it is has been blocking certain vaccine-related searches since last year. But the renewed interest in online misinformation ― fueled by a growing measles outbreak in Washington state that shows what can happen when parents don’t vaccinate their children ― has put a new spotlight on the effort.
An attempt to search “vaccine” on Pinterest on Thursday yielded a blank screen. A search for “MMR,” the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, also turned up no results.
But the approach isn’t airtight. HuffPost found anti-vaccine propaganda on the site by searching for related terms, like “flu shot” and “polio.”
Pinterest regularly updates a list of terms ― as well as Pins, boards and accounts ― it blocks for violating the site’s health misinformation policy, a spokesperson said.
The policy has been in place since 2017 and states that Pinterest doesn’t “allow advice when it has immediate and detrimental effects on a Pinner’s health or on public safety,” which includes the “promotion of false cures for terminal or chronic illnesses and anti-vaccination advice.”
Pinterest’s attempt to curb the spread of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories comes as other social media and search giants like Facebook and Google face mounting pressure to reduce dangerous and misleading content.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who chairs the House intelligence committee, on Wednesday joined others on social media in posting screenshots of vaccine-related Facebook searches. The effort demonstrated the prevalence of anti-vaccine propaganda in autofill suggestions.
“Last week I wrote to Facebook and Google to express my concern that their sites are steering users to bad information that discourages vaccinations, undermining public health,” Schiff wrote.
Facebook responded to Schiff’s letter last week, saying it was “exploring additional measures to best combat the problem.”
Those measures, the company said in a statement, might include “reducing or removing this type of content from recommendations, including Groups You Should Join, and demoting it in search results, while also ensuring that higher quality and more authoritative information is available.”
Facebook and Google did not respond to requests for comment.