Meta’s alternative to Elon Musk’s X is blocking searches related to COVID, vaccines, and other sensitive topics, as COVID cases are on the rise.
Threads, Meta’s recent competitor to Twitter, is facing harsh criticism for blocking search results for terms related to the pandemic, including vaccines.
The new text platform, which is linked to Instagram, rolled out its new search function last week, a major step towards giving it more parity with X, formerly known as Twitter.
After Thread’s July release, Meta has been rolling out several much needed updates in recent weeks, including a requested desktop version and user search functionality.
Threads Users Shocked to Find Search Results Blocked
Many users were upset when their search on Threads for content related to “COVID” and “vaccines” was met with a blank screen and a pop-up redirecting them to the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meta confirmed its search policy restrictions in a press statement, saying that the text platform is blocking users from searching for words that could bring up “sensitive” posts, for now.
“The search functionality temporarily doesn’t provide results for keywords that may show potentially sensitive content,” it said.
Meta acknowledged that Threads was intentionally blocking other terms but declined to provide a list of them.
A search by The Washington Post discovered that the words “sex,” “nude,” “gore,” “porn,” “coronavirus,” “vaccines,” and “vaccination” were also among blocked terms.
Health Experts Decry Censorship
Public health experts and workers also were critical of the company’s decision, telling The Post that its timing was poor, especially amid reports of a recent virus uptick.
“Censorship doesn’t work. Misinfo still gets circulated by code names & other platforms. Tech companies should invest in real solutions like moderation/education,” Lucky Tran, director of science communication at Columbia University, said in a post on X.
Mr. Tran previously told The Post that 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.
Hospitalizations in the United States rose nearly 16 percent last week, and have been rising steadily since July, but less than for the same week a year ago, according to the CDC.
CDC statistics show that deaths from the virus are less than a quarter of what they were during the same period in 2022.
The agency said cases of the virus are likely to continue into the winter.
Former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC’s “This Week” over the weekend that given the current level of immunity in the population, “the chances of this being an overwhelming rush of cases and hospitalizations is probably low.”
Meanwhile, the FDA approved another round of COVID boosters on Sept. 11 that are expected be available in the coming days.
New Meta Platform Sees Decrease in Users Since Launch
Meta’s decision to block certain search terms illustrates its desire to avoid encouraging any topics that could be deemed “hard news” on its platform.
A 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that about 4 in 10 Americans said that social media was an important source for news about the COVID-19 vaccine and virus.
Ever since Thread’s launched over the summer in an effort to take advantage of some users’ disappointment with X after its take over by Elon Musk, the platform has since failed to maintain its momentum.
Time spent on the app service has since fallen by 85 percent last month, according to tech blog Similarweb.
“Threads reached 100 million sign ups over the weekend. That’s mostly organic demand and we haven’t even turned on many promotions yet. Can’t believe it’s only been 5 days!,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in a post at the time.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Meta for comment.