Friday 6 December 2019

Social media firms should help to fight anti-vaccine posts - Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Health Minister Simon Harris will hold a meeting with top social media executives today in a bid to reduce the spread of misinformation about vaccines.

The executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter will be asked to put more controls on social media posts which are anti-vaccine and based on incorrect claims.

There is continued concern about the lower than recommended uptake of some vaccines, including the MMR jab which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Mumps cases have soared this year with 2,167 infections reported here so far, compared with 417 for the same months in 2018.

The spread of flu is also expected to increase in the coming weeks.

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"Over the past year, a number of social media companies have responded to concerns around anti-vaccine misinformation on their platforms and have begun to take actions to counteract the problem," the minister said. "The effectiveness of these measures remains unclear.

"The meeting offers us an opportunity to discuss and understand the measures taken so far and potential future measures which they are considering."

He said it would also be a chance "to ask organisations to consider if there are further measures they will be willing to take in the event of a national outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease".

Mr Harris added: "There is no room for complacency in this area. We are currently experiencing an outbreak of mumps in Ireland."

The outbreak started in the summer of 2018, peaked in spring 2019 and then declined over the summer months. However, the number of notifications has increased since September.

The outbreak is affecting predominantly young people in the 15-24 year age group.

The best protection against mumps is to be age appropriately vaccinated with the MMR injection.

"Social media is an amazing tool but companies need to decide which side they are on when it comes to public health," said Mr Harris. "They can either be an ally or an obstacle. I hope it is the former."

Irish Independent

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