Consumer Health Digest #19-08
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 10, 2019
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.
Web giants announce plans to curb anti-vaccine propaganda. After Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) sent letters to the chief executive officers of Google, Facebook, and Amazon objecting to unfounded and debunked claims about vaccines on their respective platforms.
- Karan Bhatia, Google's Vice President of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs, replied: "We have put a lot of effort into curbing misinformation in our products—from better Search ranking algorithms, to improving our ability to surface authoritative content, to tougher policies against monetization of harmful or dangerous content. Under YouTube's Advertiser-Friendly Content Guidelines, we are and have been demonetizing anti-vaccination content under our longstanding harmful or dangerous advertising policy." [Schiff receives official responses from Google, Facebook regarding anti-vaccine misinformation. Congressman Adam Schiff press release. Mar 7, 2019]
- Kevin Martin, Facebook's Vice President of U.S. Public Policy, replied: "Our approach . . . is to reduce the spread of inaccurate information about vaccines by reducing its distribution in News Feed, removing groups and pages that promote misinformation from recommendation surfaces, and providing authoritative information to people who might encounter it," Although misinformation about vaccines will become harder to find on Facebook, and on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, the company will not remove incorrect content. [Caron C. Facebook announces plan to curb vaccine misinformation. The New York Times. Mar 7, 2019]
- Amazon responded by removing five anti-vaccination documentaries from its streaming service: Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe; We Don't Vaccinate!; The Greater Good; Shoot 'Em Up: The Truth About Vaccines; and Man Made Epidemic. [Spangler T. Amazon took down 5 anti-vaccination documentaries in response to backlash. Decider. Mar 3, 2019] However, AmazonSmile's charity fundraising program still permits shoppers to designate four anti-vaccine organizations to receive 0.5% of the price of their purchases on Amazon. [Wong JC. Revealed: AmazonSmile helps fund anti-vaccine groups. The Guardian. Mar 5, 2019]
A recently reported study revealed a significant impact on communications about vaccines on Twitter from Russian trolls and sophisticated bots that promote discord about vaccination and from anti-vaccination messages by disseminators of malware, unsolicited commercial content, and other disruptive materials that violate Twitter's terms of service. [Broniatowski DA and others. Weaponized health communication: Twitter bots and Russian trolls amplify the vaccine debate. American Journal of Public Health. 108:1378-1384, 2018]
Social media may be a small contributor to the all-too-common problem of vaccine hesitancy/refusal. The availability of vaccine misinformation through sources such as books and an estimated nearly 500 anti-vaccine Web sites may have greater impact. [Belluz J. Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube are cracking down on fake vaccine news. Vox. Mar 7, 2019]
20 states have introduced anti-vaccination bills. At least 20 states have introduced bills this year that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, would (a) broaden the reasons why parents can exempt kids from getting vaccines even if there isn't a medical need and (b) require doctors to provide more information on the risks of vaccines. [Lou M. Griggs B. Even with measles outbreaks across the US, at least 20 states have proposed anti-vaccination bills. CNN. Mar 6, 2019] These misguided legislative efforts coincide with reports of 206 individual cases of measles confirmed in 11 states during the first two months of 2019. The majority of those cases were among nonvaccinated people. [Measles cases and outbreaks. CDC. Mar 4, 2019] The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is very safe. Thanks to a highly effective vaccination program in the United States and improved measles control in the Americas region, measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000.
Consumer health textbook available online. The 576-page 9th edition of the 2012 college textbook Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decision is newly available at no cost to Kindle Unlimited readers or for purchase as a Kindle edition for $9.99. The book, authored by a team headed by Dr. Stephen Barrett, provides a panoramic view of the U.S. health marketplace and tells how to distinguish valid health claims from those that are misleading or fraudulent. Although some of the economic statistics in the book are outdated, the basic information and recommended strategies for consumers remain relevant today. A Kindle device is not needed to read the book. Free reader apps are downloadable for iOS, Android, Mac and PC.
This page was posted on March 11, 2019.