Pinterest starts displaying information from health organizations for searches related to vaccines

As part of its efforts against health misinformation, Pinterest is now displaying information from public health organizations for keywords like “measles” or “vaccine safety.” The social media platform had previously blocked vaccination-related search terms, but a new announcement says the company wants to close the “data void” that results from false information being spread more widely than accurate information.

“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,” wrote Ifeoma Ozoma, Pinterest’s public policy and social impact manager. “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.”

Pinterest search results for health-related keywords will now display information from the World Health Organization, the Vaccine Safety Net (created by WHO to provide vaccine information in different languages), the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers of Disease Control.

In addition, an information card on top of the results notifies users that “pins about this topic often violate our Community Guidelines, which prohibit harmful medical misinformation. Because of this, we’ve limited search results to Pins from internationally-recognized health organizations. If you’re looking for medical advice, please contact a healthcare provider.”

Users also won’t see recommendations or comments on Pins in these search results. “We’re taking this approach because we believe that showing vaccine misinformation alongside resources from public health experts isn’t responsible,” said Ozoma.

The new search feature is currently available in English on Pinterest’s website and iPhone and Android apps and will be expanded into other languages. Ozoma wrote that Pinterest will focus on vaccine-related searches first but “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.”

Importantly for a visually-based platform, Pinterest, which has more than 300 million visitors a month, is also developing resources that health organizations can use to create eye-catching pins for text-based information.

Once filled with anti-vaccine pins (in 2016, researchers found that most vaccine-related posts on Pinterest contained anti-vaccine sentiment), Pinterest has become one of the most active social media platforms in terms of stemming the spread of misinformation about vaccines. In 2017, it began banning pins with “anti-vaccination advice,” which have always been prohibited by its advertising policies.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have also begun taking measures to stop the proliferation of anti-vaccine content, which has contributed to the return of diseases like measles around the world. In the U.S., the Centers of Disease Control said that between January 1 and August 22, 1,215 cases of measles were confirmed, the greatest number of cases reported in the country since 1992, and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.