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October 19, 2021
LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 14 attorneys general asking Facebook to disclose whether members of the so-called "Disinformation Dozen" were granted "XCheck" protections that allowed them to spread COVID-19 falsehoods and anti-vaccine misinformation in violation of Facebook policies.
Internal Facebook documents shared by whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that Facebook maintains a "whitelist" of users under the project name "XCheck" that allowed select celebrities, politicians, and journalists to share content in violation of Facebook policies. Documents showed those posts contained harassment, incitement of violence, and disinformation regarding vaccinations and COVID-19.
"We have seen the impact of the rampant disinformation over the course of this pandemic," Nessel said. "Facebook has been inconsistent in their effort to address vaccine disinformation, effectively undermining efforts to safely and quickly distribute vaccines and leading to further loss of life."
In their letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the attorneys general also ask Facebook to disclose the extent to which whitelisted content has been deemed to be anti-vaccine, and how many user complaints regarding such anti-vaccine posts have resulted in removal of the content, among other questions.
Despite efforts Facebook has taken to address some elements of vaccine disinformation, evidence is clear that Facebook's algorithm has promoted anti-vaccine content and that those who have chosen not to be vaccinated have been influenced by disinformation shared on Facebook. Unvaccinated individuals are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and available.
Attorney General Nessel joined eleven other attorneys general in March calling on both Facebook and Twitter to take stronger measures to stop the spread of anti-vaccine COVID-19 disinformation on their social media platforms. Digital media research groups have estimated that 12 anti-vaxxers' personal accounts and their associated organizations, groups and websites - the "Disinformation Dozen" -- are responsible for 65% of public anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The coalition's latest letter notes that Facebook remains inconsistent in its actions with regard to these individuals.
Joining Attorney General Nessel in sending this letter are the attorneys general of Connecticut, California, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.