Facebook Removes Hebrew-language Groups Spreading False Coronavirus Vaccine Information

The groups were deleted at the request of the State Prosecutor’s Office, which said they were attempting to sow fear among the public, but that no expressions of opinion were deleted

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Facebook on a cellphone.
Illustrative photo of Facebook on a cellphone. Credit: Jenny Kane/AP
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Facebook has removed four Hebrew-language groups from its platform for spreading false information about the new COVID-19 vaccines at the request of Israel's State Prosecutor's Office.

According to the office, dozens of items containing intentionally misleading and false information about the vaccines were shared on these groups, which the State Prosecutor's Office said were designed to sow panic and discourage people from getting vaccinated.

The content constituted clear criminal conduct rather than an expression of opinion or criticism of the COVID-19 vaccines, it added.

How COVID – and Israel’s Trump-brokered lovefest with Arab states – are affecting PalestiniansCredit: Haaretz

The posts included claims that the vaccines were being used to implant computer chips that would enable the government to monitor members of the public; that the inoculations were aimed at poisoning people and reducing the world population; that the vaccinations were designed to compile a quantum computer database on everyone receiving the shots; and that the Israeli government was conducting secret experiments on Israeli soldiers, the prosecutor’s office said.

Some of the posts purported to be from government ministries or government officials or featured fabricated documents. Some of the Facebook groups have thousands of members, and in some instances, the posts called on members to pass along the false information beyond the group.

A staff member at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center receives the coronavirus vaccine, Dec. 20, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Intentionally posting false information is a breach of Facebook’s policy guidelines. The State Prosecutor’s Office approached Facebook on the matter late last week after its cybercrime unit and the Health Ministry received complaints.

“These false posts may rise to the level of a criminal offense and therefore the unit acted to have them removed from Facebook,” said Dr. Haim Vismonsky, who heads the cybercrime unit.

“These posts could pose a real danger to public health due to concern that people reading them would mistakenly believe them to be true and avoid getting the vaccine. No content was addressed that contained opinion – even if the opinion was controversial – [or] criticism or a position on the vaccines, but rather content that constitutes a clear criminal violation.”

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