- Mark Zuckerberg interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci on Facebook Live about the pandemic on Thursday.
- But as they spoke, some users posted comments that spread conspiracy theories about coronavirus and falsely claimed vaccines are dangerous.
- The incident highlights how Facebook’s open platform can contribute to the spread of dangerous misinformation, even when the company is trying to educate the public with advice from authoritative sources.
- The majority of the comments were positive, but some users claimed that the vaccine would make people sick and that Fauci was profiting off of the pandemic.
Mark Zuckerberg interviewed top US immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci on Thursday, in a livestreamed discussion about the state of the coronavirus pandemic, the progress of vaccine development, and safety steps ordinary people should take to combat COVID-19.
Meanwhile, a very different discussion was taking place in the comments below.
As Zuckerberg and Fauci chatted on Facebook Live, dozens of Facebook users reacted in real time by spreading misinformation about vaccines, conspiracy theories about Fauci and Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates profiting off the virus, and other medical falsehoods.
The comments highlight how Facebook’s live conversation tools can become vectors for the spread of dangerous misinformation — even when it is being used with the intention of sharing reliable information about medicine and health from experts with the general public.
To be clear, the vast majority of Facebook users commenting as the interview took place were overwhelmingly positive. Some announced their adoration for Fauci, who has been openly attacked by White House officials; some thanked Zuckerberg for holding the interview; and others raised legitimate questions for Zuckerberg to ask Fauci, such as advice on schools reopening across the US.
But mixed in with the innocent commenters were also people sharing bogus advice and conspiracy theories about coronavirus.
Some cast doubts about the purported dangers of vaccines. “No doctor or government injecting me with a disease. I don’t take the flu/pneumonia vaccination either. People get sick after receiving the annual vaccination,” one wrote (Business Insider is not naming the commenters as they are not public figures).
“Smart people will build their own immunity and skip the vaccine,” said another. “It should be required that all parties involved in bringing a vaccine to market be willing to take the vaccine themselves (and give to their families) prior to distributing it to the masses,” wrote a third. (Vaccines are rigorously tested before being made available to the general public.)
Others questioned the motives of Zuckerberg, Fauci, and Bill Gates, who invests heavily in public health and has become a bogeyman for anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists — suggesting that they’re profiting off it, or even started the pandemic themselves. “Dr. Fauci isn’t as great as everyone thinks he is. Just cause he’s a ‘dr’ doesn’t mean shit! Of course he’s going to push for a vaccine so he can make bank. Don’t just blindly follow what he says,” wrote a user.
“How can it be safe when it has been rushed through in record speed. Why doesn’t Bill Gates vaccinate his own family when he is such an investor and advocate for them” said another. “Fauci already admitted he lied. He’s going to drag this out as long as possible. He said it was coming way ahead of time. Wouldn’t be surprised if he helped release it,” a different user added.
Facebook has struggled with how to handle misinformation for years — from political disinformation spread by Russian agents during the 2016 US election to vaccine denialists sharing bogus warnings about the false dangers of mainstream medicine.
The company has taken significant steps to promote more reliable information relating to coronavirus, including building a prominently displayed “Coronavirus Information Center” to share reliable information from authoritative sources, as well as interviews conducted by Zuckerberg with experts — like Thursday’s with Dr. Fauci.
“As the coronavirus impacts communities around the world, we’re focused on connecting people to accurate, authoritative information however we can, whether that’s through products like the COVID-19 Information Center and the WHO Health Alert on WhatsApp, or through conversations Mark is having with government and health officials on his Facebook page,” a spokesperson told Business Insider about the strategy in April.
But the vaccine denialists commenting on Thursday’s livestream show that Facebook’s open approach to fostering conversation can have its drawbacks — undermining even America’s top infectious disease expert, and turning an nominally educational interview with him into an opportunity to disseminate falsehoods.
A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on how it polices the comments on livestreams.
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