Facebook research has found that users who had the company's COVID-19 information center promoted in their News Feeds experienced a 3% increase in their belief in facts about vaccines, compared to users who did not. "It's an example of how even a single campaign can have an impact here," Facebook's head of health, KX Jin, said in a call with reporters Tuesday.
Facebook released those stats along with results of a survey the company has been conducting in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, which CMU statistician Alex Reinhart called "the largest public health survey ever conducted." That survey found that vaccine acceptance is on the rise nationally, particularly among Black and Hispanic adults.
As part of this research, Facebook has been assessing its own ability to influence vaccine acceptance, promoting the COVID-19 information center in a subset of users' News Feeds across five countries and comparing their survey results to a control group. That experiment yielded positive results, said Heidi Larson, founding director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. "Any incremental... positive increase is a good thing," Larson said.
Still, Larson said that research in both the U.S. and in Africa has shown that people who spend more time on social media are more likely to be hesitant about the vaccine. "For those that spend a larger proportion of time on social media," she said, "there is a correlation with more tendency to believe conspiracy and misinformation."
Facebook said it's using the results of this and other research to design new interventions, including the vaccination stickers and profile frames the company recently rolled out. "Researchers at MIT actually did a separate Facebook COVID-19 survey and found that vaccine acceptance can increase simply by showing the number of people in your area that plan to be vaccinated," Jin said.
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.