Needing a recipe for tonight's evening meal to impress dinner guests. *Opens Pinterest*.
Unsure how to style the pair of shoes I bought last week. *Opens Pinterest*.
Searching for wallpaper inspiration for the spare room I'm decorating. *Opens Pinterest*.
Looking for reliable vaccine safety information from leading health organizations available in various languages. *Opens Pinterest*.
Challenging vaccine hesitancy through social media
After making the decision to stop showing results for searches related to vaccines last year, Pinterest have made a U-turn. Any searches on the platform relating to "vaccine safety", "measles" and other health related terms will now be directed to leading public health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the WHO-established Vaccine Safety Net (VSN).
The announcement comes in the wake of several leading health organizations and government bodies announcing their own schemes to challenge vaccine hesitancy. UK prime minister Boris Johnson specifically called upon social media platforms to take responsibility for anti-vaccine content posted by users. The WHO has declared vaccine hesitancy as one of the ten threats to global health in 2019.
The contagious nature of health information
Many individuals use social media as their prime source of information; over 300 million people, dubbed "Pinners", use Pinterest every month. Of course, this is a great source of knowledge. However, if the information being spread is health information or medical advice, that is not supported by scientific evidence, the situation becomes dangerous.
"What we and others have observed is an enthusiasm gap between those creating and disseminating harmful health misinformation and those creating resources rooted in settled science. Generally, there’s more accessible and visually compelling health misinformation than science-based journal articles on the virtues of vaccinations. In addition, we’ve found that some purveyors of health misinformation have a financial incentive. For instance, some sell products and potions, and others use spammer tactics and clickbait to drive traffic to their own sites where they monetize," said Pinterest representatives in a recent statement.
Tackling health misinformation
The new strategy will mean that Pinterest users will only be able to view content from leading public health organizations, and there will be no recommendations or comments on Pins in the results. Ads also won't be shown. "Since 2017 it’s been against our community guidelines to promote anti-vaccination advice and other health misinformation, and we’ve never allowed it to be advertised. We’ve long used guidance from these health institutions to inform our policy and how we enforce it, but we wanted to do more," Pinterest declared.
When it comes to tackling health misinformation, Pinterest don't plan to stop at vaccines. "We’ll need to keep evolving our list of terms for which we block medical misinformation and provide expert advice as people try to get around our safeguards. We’ll also continue to remove this content and accounts that spread it from our service," says Ifeoma Ozama, Public Policy and Social Impact Manager at Pinterest. I decided to test the new search experience, now available globally in English on the web and in Pinterest mobile apps for iPhone and Android. Sure enough, when I type "vaccine" into the search bar, the first pin links directly to the WHO website.