If you’ve tried to look up anything about vaccines on Pinterest since the end of 2018, you probably haven’t found much. The company quietly stopped showing any results to users searching for such content, The Wall Street Journal reports. Vaccine content is still allowed to be pinned on the platform, but the company is actively preventing people from finding it, at the moment.
From the WSJ:
Most shared images on Pinterest relating to vaccination cautioned against it, contradicting established medical guidelines and research showing that vaccines are safe, Pinterest said. The image-searching platform tried to remove the antivaccination content, a Pinterest spokeswoman said, but has been unable to remove it completely.
The search ban is in place temporarily while Pinterest figures out how to handle its anti-vax problem. “It’s better not to serve those results than to lead people down what is like a recommendation rabbit hole,” Pinterest’s public policy and social impact manager also told the Journal.
The change comes at a time when many platforms are trying to figure out how to keep a lid on fake news and conspiracy theories. YouTube announced at the beginning of 2019 that it would “begin reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways.” The company listed vaccine conspiracy theories — e.g., “vaccines cause autism” — among the types of content it would be suppressing. This is a positive change that is mostly indicative of YouTube’s problems having grown so big that the company’s hand was finally forced. (A recent study linked the rise in flat-Earthers — people who believe we’ve been lied to and the Earth isn’t, in fact, round — to YouTube videos.)
For Pinterest, the change feels a little more in earnest. The peddling of pseudo-science probably wasn’t ever supposed to be part of the business model for a platform engineered for sharing recipes and planning home décor and weddings. So there was never a system created for tackling content that wasn’t those (let’s say) safer topics. YouTube doesn’t have the same excuse.