Facebook pages have seen engagement with anti-vaccine posts treble between July and August, according to a recent analysis by the Guardian.
The paper argued that its findings call for a “major new push” to tackle conspiracy theories in the public eye.
It found that engagement with posts “expressing scepticism or hostility” towards vaccines on six UK Facebook pages rose from 12,000 in July to 42,000 in August.
The figures in question were conducted using the social media analytics tool CrowdTangle.
According to The Guardian, these pages were selected by running keyword searches on terms associated with the anti-vaccination movement, creating a list of pages that “frequently shared disinformation and conspiracy theories”.
It found that one Facebook page for an alternative medicine business that has 1.9 million likes shared around 50 posts “expressing scepticism” about vaccines during the last three months.
Another page with more than 500,000 likes had several posts linking to a film that blamed the pandemic on Big Pharma, Bill Gates and the World Health Organisation, adding that mask-wearing was dangerous to wearers.
In addition, a fan page for conspiracy theorist David Icke had 22,000 likes, while a page set up to oppose UK lockdown measures had 30,000 followers.
Labour MP Chris Elmore, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on social media, told The Guardian: “Ministers need to bring forward a clear, coherent and targeted public information campaign detailing the rigorous scientific procedures that are being followed in developing a vaccine for Covid-19, and the robust safeguards that are in place.
“If their strategy isn’t overhauled quickly, misinformation may well erode public confidence to such an extent that it could fatally undermine the success of any clinically safe vaccine once one is identified.”
A Facebook spokesperson told the paper: “This analysis only considers a small sample size and is not representative of our work in this space.
“Facebook does not allow harmful misinformation on our platforms and we have removed 7 million pieces of Covid-19-related misinfo between April and June, as well as posts shared with us by the Guardian that violated our policies.”
They added: “We also reduce the visibility of vaccine misinformation by putting it to the bottom of News Feed, don’t show it in search results or recommend it to you and don’t allow it in adverts.”