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06 Dec 2021

Louth Senator says rebranding Facebook won't prevent Covid misinformation

Louth Senator says rebranding Facebook won't prevent Covid misinformation

Fine Gael Senator John McGahon

Rebranding Facebook and a new company name are attempts to deflect from the real problems on the social media platform such as posting Covid-19 misinformation and widespread conspiracy theories about the vaccine, a Fine Gael Senator has said.

Louth Senator John McGahon said he is alarmed by numerous anti-vaccine pages and groups still active on Facebook, despite the social media giant announcing a crackdown on users violating its standards on misinformation earlier this year.

Senator McGahon, who is Fine Gael’s Seanad spokesperson on Communications, said: “In recent weeks, public health experts have expressed concern over the disproportionate impact Covid is having on people who remain unvaccinated, which currently stands at 370,000 people.

“Two out of every three people in intensive care is not vaccinated, with concerns about the trajectory of the virus in the winter months and the continued pressure on our health service.

“It is therefore worrying to see that misinformation and blatantly false content regarding the Covid vaccine is still rampant on a number of Irish Facebook pages, at a time when the public health advice states that vaccination is the best defence against contracting this awful illness.

“We hear reports that Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg is considering a rebrand and name change.

"That won’t cut it when the bottom line and profits still trump over propaganda and misinformation.

“In August, Facebook said it had removed dozens of anti-vaccine accounts after the US Government called on social media firms to tighten controls on pandemic-related facts shared on their platforms.

“Yet there are numerous pages containing harmful content and wild conspiracy theories that are still active on Facebook, which is dangerous to those who may stumble upon them when they are looking for science-led and official information regarding the vaccine.

“One page contains a claim about the “Experimental MRNA "Vax" and claims there is a ‘99.05% chance of survival without it but instead you would rather risk death or injury’.

“Another contains claims about ‘medical apartheid’ at play between the vaccinated and unvaccinated and suggests a boycott of businesses who ask for the Covid Cert.

“One group has a list of concerns allegedly raised by a group of professionals “from hospitals around the country’ about an alarming increase in patients with serious complications and vaccinations taking place without the consent of patients.

“The people behind these groups have a clear agenda; it is an attempt to destabilise and undermine our public health advice. All too often their claims are grounded in racism, anti-immigration and the QAnon movement.

“Details of a protest being organised outside the Dáil by one of these groups has been shared widely on social media.

“In the post, organisers warn the rally is ‘not child friendly’ as ‘we the people are demanding the caretaker government stand down with immediate effect continuance of medical apartheid and the lockdown of the people.’

“Sadly, we have seen how these protests can turn ugly with a number of people injured after thugs clashed with members of the gardaí in Dublin City Centre in February this year.

“Publicising events such as this, which have the potential to cause mayhem and violence, should not be permitted. I believe that Facebook, and indeed all social media companies, must do better in combatting Covid misinformation and far right conspiracies,” Senator McGahon concluded.

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