Will the latest Facebook clampdown on anti-polio propaganda bear fruit?

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Pakistan has found a powerful ally to counter its rampant anti-polio propaganda: Facebook has begun cracking down on user accounts and pages responsible for spreading misinformation about the crucial vaccination, and has taken down 31 pages behind the campaign against the anti-polio drive.

On Monday, rumours spread on social media that a one-year-old child had died after taking polio vaccine in Swabi K-P. It was followed by, what the government alleges, an organized campaign against the vaccine.

Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication, Babar Bin Atta told media that Facebook’s help was sought on this campaign after social media users continues to link the child’s death to the polio vaccine even though the autopsy report established that the child had instead died of suffocation after choking on food’, he said.

The episode led to a collective déjà vu as a similar fake news had disrupted a nationwide anti-polio campaign in April 2019, when a fake video showed children feigning unconsciousness, allegedly after being vaccinated. The government apprehended the culprits behind the campaign and exposed their ploy.

However, this isn’t a simple case of fake news. According to Polio Eradication Organization, Pakistan is one of only three polio endemic countries in the world. The other two are Afghanistan and Nigeria. Yet people in Pakistan continue to perceive the anti-polio vaccination as a  Western ploy to sterilize Muslims, hazardous to health and a tool to serve unknown Western interests.

After the tally of new polio cases rose to 58 this year, Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to lead the campaign himself.

We hope that he will be able to spur some ‘tabdeeli’ in the otherwise dismal situation.

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