WhatsApp spreading anti-vaccine news in India says WSJ

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FILE - This Feb. 19, 2014, file photo, shows WhatsApp and Facebook app icons on a smartphone in New York. Instagram along with Messenger and WhatsApp are serving as the social media giant’s insurance policy for a future that might not be dominated by its flagship service. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

Facebook has yet again come under critical observation in India after its instant messaging app WhatsApp with 300 million users in the country became a medium for the rapid spread of anti-vaccine misinformation.

“Anti-vaccine misinformation, some of it from social media posts in the West, is spreading in India on WhatsApp, undermining efforts to root out measles and rubella in a country where tens of thousands of people are struck by the diseases each year,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

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FILE – In this March 10, 2017, file photo, WhatsApp appears on a smartphone in New York. Users of WhatsApp in China and security researchers reported Tuesday, July 18, 2017, widespread service disruptions amid fears that the popular messaging service may be at least partially blocked by authorities in the world’s most populous country. The app was partly inaccessible unless virtual private network software was used to circumvent China’s censorship apparatus, known colloquially as The Great Firewall. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

Facebook and its family of apps is already facing pressure to stop promoting anti-vaccine propaganda to users amid global concern over vaccine hesitancy and a measles outbreak in the Pacific northwest.

Earlier in February, the social networking giant was reported to have allowed advertisers to promote anti-vaccine content to nearly 9 lakh people interested in “vaccine controversies”.

According to the latest report, many of the same wrong stories that misled Americans on vaccinations are spreading via WhatsApp in India, where some vaccination programmes have been halted.

“Dozens of schools in Mumbai have refused to allow health officials to carry out vaccinations in recent months, largely because of rumors shared on Facebook Inc.’s popular messaging app about the supposed dangers,” The Wall Street Journal added.

The social networking giant has not officially commented on the subject yet.

In March, Monika Bickert, Vice President, Global Policy Management at Facebook, informed people via a blog-post that the social networking giant has decided to take action against accounts which were promoting vaccine hoaxes as identified by the World Health Organisation and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US.

Facebook logo.

As part of the initiative, for its 2.32 billion global users, Facebook decided not to include pages that contained misinformation about vaccinations in news feed, search, recommendations or predictions.

With over one billion users, Instagram decided to block content on vaccinations that could potentially contain wrong information from showing up in the explore tab and hashtag pages.

Fighting against the spread of misinformation on anti-vaccines, Amazon in March started removing anti-vaccine documentaries from its Prime Video streaming service after a CNN Business report highlighted the anti-vaccine comments available on the site.