During the first phase of Covid-19 pandemic, the internet was full of bizarre information regarding its origin. After the research experts started studying the virus, most of this information was cleared. Now that Covid-19 vaccines are finally here, the disinformation has started to re-emerge, making health experts question if spreading rumours regarding a public health crisis should be a crime or not.
Spreading Covid-19 vaccine disinformation online is ethically wrong as it may change the decision of people reading this information, preventing them to get this vaccine. Although spreading information is beneficial but spreading false information or any information with no clear reasoning or evidence is wrong which may cause more harm than benefits.
In case of Covid-19 vaccines, there is clear evidence on how getting the vaccine can save millions of people to die of pandemic and any changes to this decision caused by disinformation circulating on social media are misconduct. Dr Melinda Mills from the University of Oxford says that causing death in public by spreading vaccine disinformation should be taken as a criminal act. The complete explanation to this argument is published in The BMJ.
She highlighted how 70% to 83% of people rely on the internet to get updates on health especially after pandemic started. Nearly 65% of the data on YouTube suggests not to use these vaccines, suspecting that they may be linked with side effects and secondary infections such as autism or contains fake ingredients inside.
According to a survey in the UK, people who believe social media posts to get the information especially from YouTube videos were less interested to get Covid-19 vaccination. Although this disinformation on Covid-19 vaccine is preventing people to vaccinate, yet criminalizing it is not that easy.
Although there are lots and lots of disinformation regarding the source of pandemic, treatments and Covid-19 vaccine visible to the public in major countries of the world social media groups have stated that they aren’t publishing this disinformation and their role is only providing a platform for people to share their views. Although they find themselves minimally responsible for the spread of Covid-19 vaccine disinformation they agree to change posting rules and change policies before allowing any post.
By the law, there is no clear role of social media determines which is why they can’t be held responsible for the circulation of misleading information. it is necessary to make laws which may bound these companies to change their algorithms and decide which information should be published or which should be double-checked for facts.
Communication and sharing views online can’t be criminalized but there are many other technical solutions which can help to handle all this misinformation online. For example, Facebook and Twitter recently started fact-checking and misinformation. The pandemic can only be controlled if more and more people are vaccinated, more importantly when they accept that vaccines are there to save them, not to make them sick.