Despite Efforts by Instagram, Search Results for Covid-19 Vaccine Are Still Sketchy

Users are directed to credible resources like the CDC first, and must click through, but when they do …

Instagram said late Thursday that it will remove widely debunked claims about Covid-19 vaccines and direct users who search for terms related to vaccines or Covid-19 to information from credible health authorities.

However, as of the time of this post Friday, questionable accounts were just a couple of clicks away.

Searching for those terms brought up a prompt directing people to the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and when clicking through to continue to search results, the CDC was the top result, followed by Gavi, an international public-private global health partnership seeking to improve access to new and underused vaccines for children living in poorer countries, and then by the International Committee of the Red Cross.


Following those three credible sources, though, Instagram’s search results were littered with accounts that were clearly created for the sole purpose of discrediting vaccines.

A Facebook spokesperson told Adweek, “Over the years we’ve made improvements to our search to help connect people to credible and relevant information. If accounts contain terms that have been widely debunked by experts, they will not appear in search and will be removed from our platform for breaking our policies. Furthermore, we won’t show or recommend content that contains misinformation about vaccinations on Explore or hashtag pages.”

The spokesperson explained that the order of search results is determined by several factors, including content users have previously engaged with, accounts they follow and their past behavior on the platform, stressing, “Of an account has continually broken our rules or posted content that is misinformation, they may no longer appear in recommendations across reed and Explore, as well.”

When asked whether further actions were planned, the Facebook spokesperson said, “In the past few months, we’ve adjusted search typeahead (the predictive text that appears when users begin entering search terms) to improve the accounts and hashtags that appear to favor high-quality accounts, and we will continue investing in this space. We’ve made improvements to search to help protect our community from content that could be harmful, but our work is not done.”

Instagram is also resurfacing its How to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus prompt in places where Covid-19 cases have begun to surge again.

That prompt directs users to health authorities such as the CDC, the World Health Organization or local counterparts.