How Amazon algorithms are spreading vaccine misinformation

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Amazon's search algorithm pushes books that promote false claims about vaccines to the top of its generated results pages, according to Seattle-based University of Washington researchers. 

Books that address and debunk health misinformation appear lower in Amazon's search results, which means they are less likely to be seen by consumers, the researchers said in a Feb. 2 news release. 

For the analysis, the researchers tested a list of 48 search terms on vaccine-related topics, such as "immunization" and "MMR vaccine and autism" over a 22-day time period. They found that content promoting misinformation consistently outperformed products that debunk false claims about vaccines. When results were sorted by certain filters, including "average customer reviews," misinformative products performed especially well. 

The researchers recommended approaches for Amazon to take to combat the misinformation shared on its platform. These include introducing bias indicators and displaying informative links alongside the product listings. 

 

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