Meta Platforms’ Threads has censored search terms that include the words “COVID,” “vaccines” and “coronavirus” in a bid to thwart the spread of disinformation, the company said.
Mark Zuckerberg’s purported “Twitter killer” app rolled out its search function last week for US-based users as well as those in Canada, Mexico, India and the United Kingdom.
“The search functionality temporarily doesn’t provide results for keywords that may show potentially sensitive content,” a Meta spokesperson confirmed to The Post on Tuesday.
“People will be able to search for keywords such as “COVID” in future updates once we are confident in the quality of the results.”
A search for COVID-related terms generated a pop-up link to the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public health officials lamented the move to censor search terms related to COVID, particularly as a new variant has fueled a recent uptick in cases and hospitalizations, according to the Washington Post.
“The decision to censor searches about COVID will make it harder for public health experts and people who work in public health to get out important info to the public about how they can protect themselves,” Lucky Tran, director of science communication at Columbia University, told the outlet.
Julia Doubleday, who heads outreach at World Health Network, told the news site: “Social media is a lifeline for patients, literally.”
“Long Covid patients have died of organ failure, infections, cardiac events, and more, and social media is one place they can share information,” Doubleday told The Washington Post.
“Cutting off communication between suffering and disabled patients is cruel in the extreme. It’s indefensible.”
Meta Platforms has not specified the extent to which it plans to moderate content on its platform.
The company has stated that its safety policies will mirror that of Instagram, the photo-sharing app through which users can automatically log in to Threads.
Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz, who wrote the article for the publication, slammed Meta’s decision.
“Wholesale blocking searches to things like covid is extremely irresponsible,” she tweeted on X.
Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, responded to Lorenz, writing: “I hear you, and we’re working to support more searches quickly.”
“We’re trying to learn from last mistakes and believe it’s better to bias towards being careful as we roll out search,” he wrote.
Threads, which was launched in early July with the aim of competing against the social media platform that has since been rebranded as X.
Threads attracted some 100 million downloads within the first week of its rollout but has seen time spent on the site fall by 85% last month, according to tech blog Similarweb.