Daily Mirror

Dangers of turning sick anti-vax lies into crimes

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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.

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 24 hours, 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 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 misinforma­tion in the future. is to the

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For high vaccine acceptance, encouragin­g public trust is key

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