The Labour Party wants Prime Minister Boris Johnson to introduce an emergency bill to address the spread of vaccine skeptic content on social media. The party argues that if people are allowed to make critical comments about the vaccine online, it could hamper vaccination efforts which have already started in the UK.
The shadow secretary for culture and media Jo Stevens said the government should introduce an emergency bill in the House of Commons that would force social media companies to promptly remove vaccine “misinformation” within a specified period. She suggested sanctions for the owners of the platforms if the content is not removed within the specified period.
According to Stevens, the emergency bill is needed since the controversial Online Harms Bill, introduced by the government to tackle similar issues, is at the white paper stage – it might not be passed by parliament until Spring 2021.
“This is about preventing social media platforms from facilitating the spread of anti-vaxxer information. This is being done at an industrial level scale by groups and bad actors,” Stevens said.
“If there are repeated and aggravated breaches of that then there should be personal liability on senior executives on those platforms,” Stevens added. “[The government] could bring a bill forward. It needs to be very simple. Although government has talked about online harms for a long time even if we get their response to the white paper shortly, we know it’s unlikely that legislation will have Royal Assent until after the vaccine rollout has happened.”
The founder of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, Imran Ahmed, who has recently shifted from calling for censorship of “hate” online to calling for vaccine-skeptic censorship, shared similar thoughts. He said the Online Harms Bill was necessary, but noted the government needs a faster solution to handle anti-vaccination information online.
“The failure of social media companies to tackle malignant behavior on their platforms, first with COVID-19 misinformation and now anti-vaccine extremism, demonstrates why the Government must bring forward its Online Harms Bill as soon as possible,” Ahmed said. “However, the most urgent problem needs a far more immediate solution. Lies designed to persuade people not to protect themselves and their families are being broadcast to millions of people online every day.”
That said, social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, have taken steps to reduce the spread of vaccine-skepticism.
Facebook, for example, directs users to “authoritative” sources of information explaining the importance of vaccines when they search “anti-vaccine.” Twitter takes users to “know the facts section,” which contains a link to Covid-19 vaccinations page on the NHS website in the UK.