North Dakota Health Department Joins Mississippi in Closing Social Media Comment Sections

The North Dakota Department of Health closed their social media comment sections online Tuesday, following Mississippi's example in an attempt to combat sharing of misinformation.

The North Dakota Department of Health said their social media accounts "will continue to be a source for sharing verified public health information to help North Dakotans make informed decisions," and that the comment ban "will be applied to all posts, and not be specific to any particular topic," the department said in a statement on Monday.

The department stated that numerous social media posts were flocked with comments, and according to Marie Moe, North Dakota Department of Health spokeswoman, were no longer creating constructive conversations.

"People started discrediting information about everything we posted. Our comment section was no longer a constructive dialogue. There was lots of arguing back and forth. We had people share stories of their loss of a loved one due to COVID, and then others demanding to see the death certificate," Moe said.

In July, The Mississippi State Department of Health also announced it would be blocking comments on its Facebook posts, but only comments that related to COVID-19 because of misinformation being spread online.

U.S. health officials believe this misinformation from comment sections and other parts of social media platforms have caused some to hesitate or reject the coronavirus vaccine due to various concerns.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

North Dakota Covid test site
The North Dakota Department of Health closed their social media comment sections online Tuesday, following Mississippi’s example in an attempt to combat sharing of misinformation. North Dakota National Guard soldiers administer COVID-19 tests inside the Bismarck Events Center in Bismarck, North Dakota on November 17, 2020. Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune/Associated Press

North Dakota's health department is a cabinet-level agency and its head serves at the discretion of the governor. Mike Nowatzki, Republican Governor Doug Burgum's spokesman, referred questions about the ban to the health department.

Agency spokeswoman Marie Moe said her department consulted with Mississippi officials before cutting comments. Officials there defended the move and said it didn't have an impact on agency messaging, Moe said.

North Dakota has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S., with just over 60 percent of the population completing their doses despite the widespread availability of shots.

Moe said people trying to dispute the state's messaging on vaccinations was a big part of the ban, but people also began challenging guidance from the health department, including precautions for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

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

The posts on the North Dakota health department's Facebook page immediately following the announcement were mixed, with some people applauding the agency, while others complained it was a free speech infringement that discounted other viewpoints.