U.S. Rep. Posey blasts Facebook for discouraging anti-vaccine content

Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Florida

WASHINGTON — Florida Republican Rep. Bill Posey cautioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday against policing anti-vaccine content on the social media platform. 

Zuckerberg was testifying before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee in a hearing that was centered on Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency, Libra, and its impact on the financial services sector.

But Posey used his time to press Zuckerberg on vaccine science. 

The Florida Republican said he supports vaccinations, but “I also support open and frank communication of the risk of vaccination.” Posey has warned in the past about a link between vaccines and autism, although scientists have debunked those claims. 

“There is no link between vaccines and autism,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Pointing to what he called “uncertainties” and “risks” associated with vaccines, Posey said, “Is Facebook able to assure us that it will support users’ fair and open discussions and communications related to the risk as well as the benefits of vaccinations?”

Zuckerberg said Facebook tries to “focus on misinformation that has the potential to lead to physical harm or imminent harm.” That includes “misleading health information,” he said. 

Posey asked Zuckerberg, “Are you 100% confident that vaccines pose no injury to any person on this planet?”

Zuckerberg replied, “I don’t think it would be possible for anyone to be 100% confident, but my understanding of the scientific consensus is that it is important that people get their vaccines.” 

The Facebook CEO added that his platform doesn’t stop users from posting “something that’s wrong,” on their own page, and Facebook doesn’t stop people from joining anti-vaccine groups.

But the company discourages people from joining such groups using various tactics, he said, like not recommending anti-vaccine groups when users type something into a search box that might lead them there. 

“We’re not going to recommend or go out of our way to show people content that would encourage people to join those groups,” Zuckerberg said. 

Posey wasn’t satisfied with that response.

“Many of the people harmed by this policy are in fact parents with disabled children and I don’t think we or you should be so quick to turn our backs on them,” he said. “I think you’re making a bad mistake.” 

Posey introduced legislation in 2017 that would direct the government  to study whether the vaccinated populations in the United States have higher rates of autism than those who aren’t vaccinated. His bill got no co-sponsors and died in the last Congress. Two other versions of his legislation have failed in previous sessions of Congress.