Jul 1, 2021 - Technology

DC subpoenas Facebook over COVID-19 misinformation

Illustration of crosshairs targeting a syringe

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

DC Attorney General Karl Racine has subpoenaed Facebook for documents and data to determine whether the company has kept its word about reducing vaccine misinformation on its platform, his office revealed Thursday.

Why it matters: Research has indicated that exposure to online COVID-19 misinformation can make Americans less willing to be vaccinated.

Driving the news: As part of a consumer protection investigation into Facebook, Racine's office subpoenaed the company in June seeking:

  • A Facebook study about COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among users revealed in a Washington Post story in March.
  • Documents identifying Facebook groups, pages and accounts that have violated the company's COVID-19 misinformation policy related to vaccines.
  • The total volume of content that has been removed or demoted by Facebook for violating the vaccine misinformation policy.
  • Details on the resources Facebook is devoting to combatting vaccine misinformation, including identifying the volume of content awaiting a fact checking review for vaccine misinformation.

What they're saying: “Facebook has said it’s taking action to address the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on its site," a spokesperson with the DC AG's office said in a statement. "But then when pressed to show its work, Facebook refused."

  • "AG Racine’s investigation aims to make sure Facebook is truly taking all steps possible to minimize vaccine misinformation on its site and support public health.”

Flashback: Facebook said in February it would take tougher action against pandemic misinformation, including claims that the COVID-19 vaccine is not effective or safe.

  • In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: "We’ve connected over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities, including through our COVID-19 Information Center. We've removed more than 18 million pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram that violate our COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation policies, and labeled more than 167 million pieces of COVID-19 content rated false by our network of fact checking partners."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Facebook.

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