Meta’s Threads Is Temporarily Blocking Searches About COVID-19

Threads, the much-hyped social media app from Facebook-parent Meta, is taking heat for blocking searches for “coronavirus,” “Covid,” and other pandemic-related queries, CNN reported.

According to CNN, the tech giant’s decision to block coronavirus-related searches on its services comes as the United States deals with a recent uptick in Covid-10 hospitalizations, per CDC data, and more than three years into the global pandemic.

News of Threads blocking searches related to the coronavirus was first reported by The Washington Post.

A Meta spokesperson told CNN that the company just began rolling out keyword search for Threads to additional countries last week.

“The search functionality temporarily doesn’t provide results for keywords that may show potentially sensitive content,” the statement added. “People will be able to search for keywords such as ‘COVID’ in future updates once we are confident in the quality of the results.”

Engadget reported that Threads is currently blocking searches for a number of “potentially sensitive” words, including “vaccines,” “covid,” and other variations of words that have been previously linked to misinformation on Meta’s platform.

According to Engadget, the limits, which were first reported by the Washington Post, are an apparent attempt to prevent controversial content from spreading on Meta’s newest app. The company has blocked number of covid and vaccine-related terms, including “covid,” “coronavirus,” “covid-19,” “vaccines” and “covid vaccines,” as well as other terms associated with potentially unsavory content like “gore,” “nude,” and “sex.”

Threads confirmed it was blocking searches in a statement to The Post, calling it a temporary measure. Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram who also oversees Threads, tweeted that the company was “trying to learn from last [sic] mistakes and believe it’s better to bias towards being careful as we roll out search.”

Engadget also reported that Meta’s history shows the company has good reasons to be cautious about search on Threads. Instagram search has been widely criticized as a vector for misinformation and its ability to lead users down conspiratorial rabbit holes. The app’s search was particularly weaponized during the early days of the pandemic, when it promoted conspiracy-touting anti-vax accounts in its top results for simple queries like “vaccine” and “5g”.

The Hill reported that that a new text-based social media platform created by industry giant Meta, is now blocking terms related to COVID-19 and vaccines on its search engines.

According to The Hill, Threads rolled out its revamped search engine last week, only for users to be met with a blank screen and a pop-up linking to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website when they type terms related to “covid” or “long covid”.

Meta’s decision comes as COVID-19 has been rising in the United States; hospitalizations from the virus increased to 16 percent last week and has been steadily rising since July, according to data from the CDC.

In my opinion, social media companies have an obligation to allow users to post credible information about COVID-19. Removing terms relating to covid could be harmful to users, especially those who are immunocompromised and hoping to get a vaccine for the latest covid strain.