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Meta's Threads blocks COVID-related searches to combat so-called disinformation — health officials slam decision
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Meta's Threads blocks COVID-related searches to combat so-called disinformation — health officials slam decision

Meta's new social media platform, Threads, recently confirmed that it is blocking COVID-related search terms in order to combat disinformation, according to the Washington Post.

Threads, a social media site launched by Mark Zuckerberg's company in July to compete with X, formerly known as Twitter, has already landed in hot water for censoring search terms that could populate sensitive results.

The Post reported that the platform is intentionally blocking search results for several terms but declined to provide a list. The outlet noted that Threads populates a blank screen when users search for "covid," "coronavirus," "vaccines," and "vaccination." Additional blocked search terms included "sex" and "porn," the Post stated.

When using COVID-related search terms, Threads provides users with a pop-up link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Threads told the outlet that the platform plans to temporarily block sensitive searches while it continues to work on its results feature.

"The search functionality temporarily doesn't provide results for keywords that may show potentially sensitive content," Threads stated. The company said it will enable complete search functionality "once we are confident in the quality of the results."

Taylor Lorenz, a Washington Post journalist, criticized Threads for blocking the search terms, calling it "extremely irresponsible."

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri replied to Lorenz on X, stating, "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."

Health officials torched the social media company for its decision.

Lucky Tran, director of science communication at Columbia University, told the Post that he was initially excited to utilize the platform's search feature.

"The decision to censor searches about COVID will make it harder for public health experts and people who work in public health to get out important info to the public about how they can protect themselves," Tran explained.

Tran claimed that blocking search results "will only leave an information gap that will be filled by misinformation from elsewhere."

"The best solution is to take proactive steps to elevate multiple trusted sources and address misinformation," he added.

Julia Doubleday, an outreach director at the nonprofit World Health Network, told the outlet that "social media is a lifeline for patients, literally."

"Long covid patients have died of organ failure, infections, cardiac events and more, and social media is one place they can share information. Cutting off communication between suffering and disabled patients is cruel in the extreme. It's indefensible," Doubleday said.

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