It should be made a criminal offence to spread anti-vaxx myths and the public should report offenders, the Royal Society and British Academy have said amid concerns that baseless fears over a coronavirus vaccine will damage uptake.
A rapid review on Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment has called for people to be “inoculated” against misinformation, which can spread rapidly on social media.
Several countries already have laws against disseminating information that is harmful to public health, and Singapore has recently carried out four prosecutions for coronavirus offences under its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
Under the same legislation, companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are also legally required to correct or remove misinformation.
Professor Melinda Mills, the director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford and the lead author of the review, said it was critical to address genuine concerns about the vaccine while preventing misleading facts from spreading on the internet.
“This information can be really damaging, and it’s clever how they spread it through memes and memorable things,” she said. “These groups are very skilled. They feed on fear, that little grain of truth, and they amplify it.