How Social Media Has Contributed To The Rise Of Measles

First Posted: Apr 01, 2019 10:09 PM EDT

The 21st century has gotten off to a roaring start, with exciting new digital technologies emerging every day to further connect us with one another. Despite all the impressive showmanship of the digital era, however, one recent trend has been anything but wondrous; the 21st century has also witnessed the rise of measles from the grave, and where this grave disease was once thought vanquished it's since sprung up with renewed fervor.

As it turns out, our favorite social media platforms have contributed to this worrying trend. Here's how social media has contributed to the rise of measles, and what's being done to stop it.

Measles is hurting us once again

Once upon a time, measles was thought to be effectively eradicated from the developed world thanks to the widespread proliferation of vaccinations and better medical technology that enables us to save more lives than ever before. Over the past few years, however, measles has launched an impressive comeback and is hurting us once again, with the CDC having recently taken note of at least 26 new measles cases in places where there shouldn't be any at all.

Initially, many people were left scratching their heads in wonder when they were told that measles was impacting the population yet again. After all, hadn't we once rid ourselves of this and many other harmful diseases through the power of vaccinations and public health campaigns? As it turns out, our efforts to stymie the spread of measles have themselves been mitigated by powerful anti-vax movements that prey upon the ignorant and thrive in a digital age that easily enables the spread of harmful misinformation. Popular tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter were merely useful avenues for anti-vaxxers to spread their misleading information waiting to be exploited.

As a result of Facebook connecting us all to one another, the world's leading social media platform helped measles go viral the old-school way, with thousands of everyday people finding themselves exposed to ludicrous information that claimed vaccines caused autism. Impressive infographics and intimidating names like the "National Vaccine Information Center" helped anti-vaxxers convince slews of regular people that vaccination campaigns were insidious efforts to poison their babies, when in reality vaccines pose no threat to children and are vital tools of public health.

Once something is posted to social media, however, it begins to spread like wildfire, which meant that efforts on behalf of tech platforms to regulate this harmful content were largely unsuccessful at first. Facebook is now infamous for its ability to spread false and misleading information, thanks in part to the platform's role in the 2016 presidential election, but even with newfound attention being paid to its inability to prevent false information from spreading the platform still enabled anti-vaxxers to find and connect with one another.

Tech firms are finally fighting back

Luckily, a number of smaller tech firms launched an impressive crusade against anti-vaxxers who enabled the resurgence of measles, an effort that was so impressive it forced larger platforms like Facebook to get serious about cleaning up anti-vaccine content. Pinterest banned vaccine searches outright from its platform, citing the immense amount of anti-vax misinformation swirling around. Other companies, like GoFundMe, announced that their digital services would no longer be made available to anti-vaccine efforts that sought to swindle everyday people.

The resurgence of measles has been one of the most notable consequences of the general misinformation that's been released to the world through social media platforms. Companies like YouTube are finding themselves unknowingly turned into radicalization engines, with young viewers falling down content "rabbit holes" that grow stranger and more unmoored from reality with every additional click and recommended video. YouTube was recently forced to vow to fight conspiracy theory videos are light was shined on the ways that the platform was impacting today's youth.

Those who enjoy robust public health initiatives will need to stay motivated, as similar crusades to force tech companies to monitor their platforms will be needed in the near-future. The anti-vaccination movement is only one source of misinformation amongst many, and today's leading social media platforms are still inundated with falsehoods and misleading information that can be harmful if spread amongst the general public. Social media has contributed to the rise of measles, but it's up to us to stop these harmful conspiracy theories from spreading further.

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