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The HSE has reported more than 1,000 Covid-19 misinformation posts on social media

Most of the complaints, 739, related to posts on Twitter.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE HSE HAS reported more than 1,000 posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic and the vaccination programme.

The majority of the complaints – or 739 in total – related to posts on Twitter, many of which remain on the popular social media platform.

Another 291 reports were made about comments and posts on Facebook, while just three complaints related to posts or stories on Instagram.

The level of reporting by the HSE has fallen dramatically since earlier this year and was hit markedly by the cyberattack on the health services in mid-May.

In March, there were 439 reports made to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, about content on their platforms according to monthly logs.

However, by last month, the number of reports had fallen to just 70.

Low numbers were also recorded during May and June, when the HSE grappled with getting its computer systems back online, with 91 and 35 reports made respectively.

An analysis of the latest two months of reports made by the HSE reveals that many of the offending posts remain online still.

In the early days of August, of the 44 posts and comments that were flagged by the HSE, 30 of them remain online with one still available but marked “misleading”.

Of the 70 posts reported in July, there are 53 of the posts or comments still active.

In some cases, tweets and comments have been deleted, or accounts have been suspended but it is not possible to determine if that was directly because of the HSE reports.

On Facebook, many of the reported comments were posted by members of the public under HSE advisories around public health measures or the vaccination rollout.

They included wild claims about the dangers of vaccination, that Covid-19 was a hoax, and much of the usual counter-factual material that circulates widely on social media.

The Twitter reports covered a wider range of content with posts flagged from high-profile people like Ivor Cummins, Marcus de Brun, and Eddie Hobbs.

Earlier in the year, the HSE also reported multiple posts relating to planned anti-lockdown gatherings including the so-called ‘Great Reopening’ of small businesses in Co Kerry.

International figures were also reported by the HSE for some of their social media posts including the author Naomi Wolf, who ended up being banned from Twitter.

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A post from the controversial US congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene was also reported after falsely claiming thousands of deaths linked to the Covid-19 vaccine.

The 1,034 misinformation reports cover a period between the start of February and the first few days of August of this year and were released under FOI.

The HSE said they had only been keeping formal records of this activity since February and that content was usually reported in “batches”.

An information note said they welcomed the work being done by social networks to counteract misinformation and disinformation relating to Covid-19 and vaccines.

They said: “Twitter have worked closely with us since before the pandemic, and other social networks since the start of the pandemic, to signpost users of their platforms, to factual, evidence-based information on the HSE website on a range of topics.”

The HSE said they reported posts that were potentially harmful to people’s health and contained deliberate misinformation.

“It is then up to the platform to decide what action they take,” said the HSE. “The social networks have their own community policies that enable them to evaluate if a post should be removed from their platform or action taken on the account that’s posted.”

The HSE also said that while the cyberattack had compromised their ability to report misinformation, they were now working to backdate reports.

About the author:

Ken Foxe

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