The Canadian Public Health Officer says the fight against disinformation related to the social media vaccine is further complicated by the emergence of online bots designed to raise distrust.
Dr. Teresa Tam, said on Friday in Ottawa that bots are spreading false claims about vaccination and increasing tension on the issue. Disinformation for social media, she added, is at least partly to blame for the global rise of this year's 300-percent measles.
"They're in the game, for sure," Tam said of bots after participating in a panel discussion on spreading false information on social media platforms.
"Some of them can be very divisive in terms of increasing distrust, trying to … reinforce the fact that there is debate when there is no debate."
There he did not specify where he believed such a thing originated, but US officials accused Russia's "troll farms" of using similar tactics to tension before the presidential election in 2016, polluting political discussions with false information and sowing discord.
There she warned that online bad actors can be very effective in planting doubts in the parents' minds, and she stressed that each parent is potentially sensitive.
She said she was worried that coverage of the Canada vaccine might slip from the current level, which she described as not high enough, but "not terrible".
"What we know is that people who completely reject vaccines are a very small group," she said. "But we can talk about a significant percentage of parents who have questions about vaccines – and we have to respond to them. We need to give them a scientifically based, credible answer."
She said that about 20 to 30 percent of parents have questions about vaccines.
You are looking for misinformation
Public health authorities in Canada talked with social media – including Facebook, Twitter and Google – to see how they can co-operate to prevent the circulation of misinformation about vaccines.
She was accompanied by a panel of Kevin Chan from Facebook Canada. He said social media giant collaborates with global health authorities to help select disinformation about vaccines.
"We are looking for things that are clearly identified by the scientific community as disinformation," said Chan, who is the head of public policy at Facebook Canada.
"What we want to be careful about is not redirecting and actually calling people's opinions. It's very important." Facebook "is a platform for all votes and we want to make sure that we keep the ability of people to have opinions and share their opinions.
"What we follow is scientifically disclosed information that could lead to real harm."
Chan said the company will remove the false search information on Facebook and Instagram (a Facebook-oriented website also owner) and block or disable advertisements containing false claims on the platforms.