This summer, believe it or not, will mark the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. I’ve always been fascinated by space exploration, but the recent trips I’ve made with my kids to planetariums and air and space museums have renewed my interest in the incredible journey that took us to the moon.
I can’t wait to commemorate Neil Armstrong’s iconic walk, whether it’s by watching documentaries with never-before-seen footage, or checking out exhibits with artifacts from Apollo 11 (for a listing of events, click here).
Unfortunately, some will choose to view the golden anniversary as an attempt to propel one of the most idiotic theories I’ve ever encountered: the claim that the moon landing never happened.
Normally, I try to remain open-minded when it comes to debates; to acknowledge that everyone has the right to his or her opinion, and that, in many cases, there is no right or wrong, just different philosophies. But when people claim astronauts never set foot on the moon — that the time and resources dedicated to making the dream a reality, and the blood, sweat, and tears of so many individuals were all for naught, it makes my blood boil. I can’t have a conversation with someone who refuses to acknowledge facts and instead surges ahead with a ridiculous notion.
It’s the same way I feel about the anti-vaccination movement. Only in this case, the spread of misinformation isn’t just a nuance (not to mention a slap in the face to all of NASA) — it’s a threat to human life, especially those of young children.
According to a study published in PLOS Medicine, the number of “philosophical-belief” vaccine nonmedical exemptions has risen in 12 of the 18 states that allow this policy. Put more simply, the social movement of vaccine opposition in the U.S. has risen — and so have measles outbreaks.
Here are some of the more disturbing statistics (CNN):
- More than 500 cases of measles have been reported in New York as part of an outbreak that began in October.
- Measles has accelerated to the second-highest level in the US in 25 years.
- The World Health Organization reported there were more than 110,000 measles cases worldwide in the first three months of 2019, an increase of nearly 300% from the same period last year.
- In Michigan, state health officials have reported 39 cases from an outbreak that originated from a New York-based traveler who didn’t realize he was carrying the disease. (He also didn’t get vaccinated for it.)
The worst part? Despite efforts by public health officials, “the outbreak isn’t going away. If anything, it has now accelerated,” said a representative from Rockland County, N.Y., which has seen 186 cases of measles. A fast-moving, life-threatening disease, according to WHO officials, is gaining traction. Yup, measles — a preventable illness — is now considered one of the year’s most notable threats to global health.
And it’s being driven by the anti-vaxxer community, who has taken to social media to spread misinformation about the safety of immunizations. Their go-to platform? Facebook, where false claims (the most common being that vaccines cause autism, which has been debunked about 7 million times) have had free rein, despite the danger it poses to the public.
Now, one might argue: is it FaceBook’s job to police content? In the comments section of a parenting blog that called out Zuckerberg and Co. to take action, several anti-vaxxers played the ‘censorship’ card, claiming they were being ‘silenced.’ Luckily, the author was quick to point out the First Amendment doesn’t protect materials that are harmful.
For this reason, a growing number of lawmakers and medical leaders have called on Facebook, along with Amazon, Google, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube to prohibit the dissemination of false claims about vaccines on their platforms. The good news is that some have complied. According to CNN, YouTube won’t allow ads to appear on videos that promote anti-vaccine content, and Pinterest users cannot link to certain sites that contain misinformation.
Facebook, on the other hand, appears to be dragging its feet. That’s not to say it isn’t taking any action; the extremely profitable company recently stated that although it won’t remove incorrect content, it will “aim to reduce the reach of that content by making it harder to find.” Under its new policy, groups and pages that spread misinformation about vaccines will have lower rankings and won’t be included in recommendations or predictions when users search within the site, according to the NY Times.
Doesn’t inspire much confidence, but at least it’s a start. If Facebook really wants to make an impact, they’ll take a page from YouTube and stop accepting ad dollars from groups that promote fake vaccine news.
But until then, it’s up to the rest of us to take action, whether it means contacting government representatives, helping to educate social media users, or simply “liking” posts that show support for medical professionals.
It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference. You might even say it just takes “one small step.”