President Biden’s surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy has formally called on tech companies to provide information on sources and the scale of COVID-19 misinformation, The Washington Post has reported. “This is about protecting the nation’s health,” he told The Post in a written statement. “Technology companies now have the opportunity to be open and transparent with the American people about the misinformation on their platforms.”
Murthy’s request pertains to social networks, search engines, crowdsourced platforms, e-commerce and instant messaging companies. To start with, he wants data and analysis on typical vaccine misinformation already identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes falsities like “the ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous” and “COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips.”
The administration seeks to learn how many users have been exposed to such misinformation, and which demographic groups may have been disproportionally affected. On top of that, it’s looking for data about the major sources of COVID-19 falsities, including individuals or businesses that sell unapproved COVID-19 products or services. Tech companies have until May 2 to comply, though they won’t be penalized if they don’t.
Last summer, Murthy called health misinformation an “urgent threat to public health” that tech platforms needed to address, adding that “health misinformation has already caused significant harm.”
The request is part of the White House’s COVID National Preparedness Plan announced yesterday, designed to achieve “minimal disruption” by COVID-19. The administration also asked health providers to submit statements on how coronavirus misinformation has hurt patients and communities. “We’re asking anyone with relevant insights — from original research and data sets to personal stories that speak to the role of misinformation in public health — to share them with us.”