Labour spokesman calls anti-vax content ‘garbage’ after demand for emergency social media law

Published: 15 November 2020

Post Desk : Anti-vaccination content on social media is “poison” and “garbage” and should be “stamped-out”, Labour has said.

With hopes rising of a COVID-19 jab being rolled out by the end of the year, the opposition has called for emergency legislation to remove “dangerous anti-vax content”, such as posts against the use of vaccines.

The party wants the government to bring forward laws that would include financial and criminal penalties for companies that fail to act against such content.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that “dangerous nonsense” is being spread on social media by people who are against inoculations and it “erodes trust” in vaccines.

There is “poison, garbage (and) conspiracy theories” online and “it’s all nonsense”, he added.

Mr Ashworth said Labour wanted to work with the government to tackle the issue.

He is calling for “strong public health messaging” because people will have “legitimate questions” about vaccines.

Asked whether people should be forced to accept a jab, Mr Ashworth said “no”.

He and shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens have written to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden insisting that the “spread of disinformation online presents a real and present danger” to vaccination efforts.

Ms Stevens said: “The government has a pitiful track record on taking action against online platforms that are facilitating the spread of disinformation.

“It has been clear for years that this is a widespread and growing problem and the government knows, because Labour has been warning them for some time, that it poses a real threat to the take up of the vaccine.

“This is literally a matter of life and death and anyone who is dissuaded from being vaccinated because of this is one person too many.”

Labour insisted that government involvement with social media platforms, aimed at anti-vaccination content, did not go far enough.

The two shadow cabinet ministers said in their letter to the culture secretary: “What we need is action now and – since these companies have been unable to take action themselves – we are calling on the government to introduce emergency legislation which would include financial and criminal penalties for continued failure to act.

“Labour would give the government the votes it needs to get such a bill through the House of Commons.”

A government spokesperson said: “Letting vaccine disinformation spread unchecked could cost British lives.

“We take this issue extremely seriously and have secured a major commitment from Facebook, Twitter and Google to tackle it by not profiting from such material, and by responding to flagged content more swiftly.”