Young women going shopping

Social media giants unite to get young people vaccinated

Image credit: Dreamstime

Snapchat, Reddit, TikTok and YouTube have partnered with the UK government and the NHS in a bid to encourage more young people to get vaccinated.

The move comes as all adults aged over 18 are invited to receive the vaccine in England.

Dr Karan Rangarajan, an NHS surgeon and influencer who uses social media to tackle the spread of misinformation, told the PA news agency: “If you really want to get on top of the misinformation, and get ahead of the game, you need to go to the source of where it is coming from – and most of it is coming from social media.”

The 31-year-old, who has 3.9 million followers on TikTok, said it was crucial these platforms were used to target younger people who might be “historically or traditionally more averse to getting their vaccine”.

Rangarajan added: “Misinformation affects all groups equally and there is a large user base that is in their late teens or early 20s. They are also in the UK the last cohort to be eligible for the vaccine, so it’s a really important group to target.”

He said the most “dangerous and potent” combination of misinformation happened when falsehoods mixed some small level of truth: “That is the frustrating element, mixing the truth and concocting something that is false.”

Misinformation has evolved throughout the pandemic, starting with what caused the virus, followed by false theories about 5G and the use of masks and how they can prevent the spread of Covid-19.

As part of the drive, Snapchat users can use NHS stickers, a filter and soon an augmented-reality lens that says “I’ve had my vaccine”. The app will also host a series of Q&As with medical experts on the prime minister’s Snapchat account.

Snapchat has also expanded its 'Here for You' feature, providing in-app resources for people looking for information around mental health and wellbeing.

Ed Couchman, from Snapchat, said: “We’re thrilled to collaborate with the government to make sure they have accurate and trusted resources to stay safe, healthy and informed.”

TikTok users will be able to use vaccine stickers and the site is working with Team Halo, a group of scientists using the platform to share information the jab.

Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, said: “I am delighted that Snapchat, Reddit, TikTok and YouTube - some of the biggest social media platforms - are coming together to support the most successful vaccine effort in NHS history.”

Ben McOwen Wilson, from YouTube, said: “It has been fantastic to witness the public response to our national initiative and to have seen the rates at which young people have stepped up. We will continue to work to combat the pandemic by using YouTube’s extensive reach among young people to help in this critical national effort.”

Facebook and Instagram are not among the platforms involved, as yet, but Dr Rangarajan said he hopes more companies would “step up and get behind the campaign”. Last year, the Government agreed new measures with social media sites to limit the spread of false information.

For their part, both Facebook and Instagram previously backed a nationwide social media campaign, launched in February, to boost the vaccine roll-out alongside support from British institutions like the Premier League and the Beano comic. The initiative allowed users to update their profiles with a range of specially designed profile frames and graphics, including artwork featuring the NHS and the Premier League.

Facebook also independently announced that it would be directing its users on where and how to get vaccinated against Covid-19, as well as detailing a new ban on misleading information about vaccines in general from being shared on its platform.

However, in March, it was revealed that Facebook-owned image-sharing app Instagram was found to be routinely recommending anti-vaccine and Covid misinformation to potentially millions of users.

In May, Facebook stepped up its position, saying it would take action against users who repeatedly share misinformation on its platform by reducing how many users see their posts. People who post misleading content about Covid-19, vaccines, climate change, elections and other divisive topics can now expect to have their outlandish claims fact-checked and users will be able to see the conclusions displayed more prominently on their page.

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