Google and Apple Inc.’s policies on spreading misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines are being tested by a new social app designed as a community for the unvaccinated.
Unjected, a community for “like-minded people that support medical autonomy and free speech,” was founded by two women from Hawaii. Users can create a profile, match with other members, and message them using the app.
It debuted in May, shortly after the largest online dating sites, such as Match Group’s Tinder and Bumble Inc., introduced incentives for users to get vaccinated. Unjected, dubbed the “Tinder for anti-vaxxers,” has amassed 18,000 downloads and plenty of jokes on Twitter, according to Apptopia.
Though it started out as a dating and friendship site, the platform has recently added a social feed. A routine update to the app prompted a Google Play review, which found the app hadn’t adequately policed user-generated content for misinformation.
Google flagged posts that claimed vaccines were “experimental mRNA gene modifiers,” “bioweapons,” and “nano-technology microchips” used to connect people to the 5G network in emails to Unjected.
On July 16, Google informed Unjected that it had two weeks to remove the posts from its app store or face being kicked off. “We had to walk a censorship tightrope,” says the author “Shelby Thomson, co-founder, stated. Unjected removed the social feed to comply with Google Play, but Thomson said she intends to restore it, along with the flagged posts, and hopes to “stay under the radar.”
Matches, chat rooms, a community directory of “unvaxxed friendly” businesses, and a database where users can list their blood types are still available on the app. “We’re not trying to harm society,” Thomson said. “We just want to exercise our freedom of choice.”
After being contacted by Bloomberg News, Apple pulled the app from its App Store. According to Apple, the app “inappropriately refers to the Covid-19 pandemic in its concept or theme,” according to an email to Unjected. By the time of publication, neither Apple nor Alphabet Inc.’s Google had responded.
Unjected’s anti-vaccine stance has also gained traction on Instagram, where it has nearly 25,000 followers. As the highly contagious Covid-19 delta variant spreads across the United States, public health officials have struggled to increase vaccination rates. Senator Amy Klobuchar recently introduced legislation that would hold companies like Facebook Inc., which owns Instagram, and Twitter Inc. liable for misinformation about health issues like Covid-19.
President Joe Biden recently stated that social media platforms are “killing people” by allowing the spread of vaccine misinformation.
As a result of the increased scrutiny, Apple and Google have begun to crack down on conservative-friendly apps that have emerged as viable alternatives to mainstream social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Parler and Wimkin, both of which advertise themselves as free-speech havens, were banned from the app stores in January for inciting violence during the Capitol riots, but they have since been reinstated. Unlike Parler and Wimkin, Unjected’s platform is not political, though it has received a warm reception from conservatives, Thomson explained.
According to a company presentation, Apple receives 100,000 App Store submissions per week to review for approval. Its strict guidelines have been criticized by developers. Even so, some people manage to slip through the cracks.
“Apple and Google’s monitoring needs to be more robust,” said president of ACT Morgan Reed, an organization that represents app makers. “But with millions of applications, it’s a game of whack-a-mole and they need to continue to step up.”