Citing misinfo, North Dakota health agency cuts out comments

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Department of Health on Tuesday switched off comments on its social media accounts in an effort to stop the spread of misinformation, mostly about the coronavirus.

Spokeswoman Marie Moe said rhetoric on the agency’s accounts had grown so heated that people were “discrediting information about everything we posted.”

“There was lots of arguing back and forth,” she said. “We had people share stories of their loss of a loved one due to COVID, and then others demanding to see the death certificate.”

North Dakota is at least the second state to take such a step, following Mississippi, which did it in July. Moe said her agency consulted with Mississippi before turning off comments.

U.S. health officials have said misinformation on social media platforms has caused some people to resist getting vaccinated against the coronavirus. North Dakota has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S., with just over 60% of the population completing their doses despite the widespread availability of shots.

The state has also struggled with hospital capacity in recent weeks because of the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. Gov. Doug Burgum and health officials have urged residents to take action to help ease the crisis, including getting vaccinated.

Moe said the move was based mostly on misinformation about coronavirus vaccines and treatments. But she said the problem had begun spreading to the agency’s other guidance, including precautions for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

“I think it discouraged people from coming to our site,” Moe said.

The agency’s announcement of the move for its Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts said those accounts “will continue to be a source for sharing verified public health information to help North Dakotans make informed decisions.” The comment ban “will be applied to all posts, and not be specific to any particular topic,” the agency said.

The replies to that announcement on the agency’s Facebook page were mixed, with some people applauding the agency, while others complained it was a free speech infringement that discounted other viewpoints.

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