Meta’s latest social media platform, Threads, has recently been reported to block all search terms related to COVID-19 in an attempt to combat the spread of disinformation. Terms such as “covid,” “coronavirus,” “vaccines,” and “vaccination” return a blank screen when searched.
In response to this, Threads provides users with a pop-up link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website when they use COVID-related search terms. “The search functionality temporarily doesn’t provide results for keywords that may show potentially sensitive content,” Threads stated. They added that full search functionality will be restored “once we are confident in the quality of the results.”
This decision has sparked criticism. Taylor Lorenz, a journalist from The Washington Post, called the move “extremely irresponsible.” Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri responded to Lorenz, saying, “I hear you, and we’re working to support more searches quickly. We’re trying to learn from last mistakes and believes it’s better to bias towards being careful as we roll out search.”
The decision to censor these terms has also raised concerns among health officials. Lucky Tran, director of science communication at Columbia University, expressed his disappointment, saying that the censorship will make it difficult for public health experts to disseminate important information to the public. Tran argued that the absence of reliable information could lead to the spread of misinformation.
Julia Doubleday, an outreach director at the nonprofit World Health Network, echoed these sentiments. She emphasized that social media plays a crucial role in facilitating communication among patients. “Cutting off communication between suffering and disabled patients is cruel in the extreme. It’s indefensible,” Doubleday said.