‘Malicious spreading of anti-vaccine disinformation should be criminal’

‘Malicious spreading of anti-vaccine disinformation should be criminal’

 

There’s a hot debate afoot about whether spreading ­anti-vaccine disinformation should be considered a crime.

As someone who has often written about the dangers of false information, I’m unsure about ­criminalising the perpetrators here as it could do more harm than good.

But we all know the ­importance of getting vaccine numbers up, as high as 80% and higher if our goal is to keep the virus under control.

False information certainly boosts vaccine hesitancy whether its intent is malicious or the expression of ­incorrect beliefs.

Mind you we wouldn’t be the first country to make it illegal to spread fake news.

What is your view? Have your say in the comment section

Laws against spreading fake news and health disinformation have been passed in France, Germany, Malaysia, Russia and Singapore.

As of 2018, Germany required social media platforms to remove hate speech or fake information within 24hours, threatening maximum fines of around £44million.

It’s hoped that such legislation could force social media companies to self-regulate and police content.

On ethical grounds, deliberate intent to spread malicious vaccine disinformation that could result in preventable deaths should be considered criminal.

But criminalisation is not straightforward, says Professor Melinda Mills of Oxford University and Nuffield College in the BMJ.

Keeping things in perspective, antivax misinformation doesn’t incite violence or lawlessness.

The freedom to debate, however, and to allow the public to raise ­legitimate vaccine concerns shouldn’t extend to causing malicious harm.

Freedom of speech is precious and must be defended as it’s the ­cornerstone of all other human rights.

And we should take care when we talk about misinformation and ­disinformation, as there’s a difference, says Jonas Sivela, at the Finnish ­Institute for Health and Welfare) in Helsinki. Misinformation is defined as “incorrect or misleading information”.

Disinformation is false information deliberately spread with the purpose of influencing public opinion.

The crucial difference is the ­intention to deceive.

Most importantly, attitudes to vaccines and vaccination range from people who have no doubts and accept all vaccines at one end, like me, and those who refuse all vaccines on the other.

In between are people who can be more or less hesitant.

It’s only fair that ­legitimate concerns about vaccines should be voiced.

I understand why vaccines and vaccination raise questions.

Failing to answer these questions would only result in a loss of trust in the Government, our scientists and our doctors.

If we want high vaccine acceptance the key is to encourage public trust in the Government, public health ­institutions and doctors, thereby boosting vaccine confidence.

This in turn could lead to less ­misinformation in the future.

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