Surgeon general says social media companies have ‘enabled misinformation’ on vaccines

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U.S. Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek MurthyMurthy: COVID-19 vaccine development could bring ‘cures and treatments for other illnesses much, much closer’ Do you need a vaccine booster and other questions swirling around COVID Pfizer to brief US health officials on coronavirus booster shot: report MORE says social media companies have “enabled misinformation” on vaccines.

Murthy made the comment during a White House briefing on Thursday as he was elaborating on his advisory warning of the dangers of misinformation on the nation’s response to COVID-19. 

“Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users,” Murthy said.

The surgeon general then elaborated on how features of social media platforms, such as “like” buttons and algorithms, pull Americans “deeper and deeper” into misinformation.

“They’ve allowed people to intentionally spread misinformation, what we call disinformation, to have extraordinary reach,” he said of modern technology. “They design product features, such as ‘like’ buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally charged content, not accurate content. And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation.”

In his advisory, Murthy calls on technology platforms to beef up their monitoring of misinformation and to redesign their algorithms to avoid amplifying misinformation

The advisory also suggests companies impose “clear consequences” for accounts that violate platform policies.

Tech companies have come under pressure to remove misinformation about COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, particularly about vaccines.

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiHillicon Valley: Facebook petitions for FTC chair’s recusal in antitrust case | Olivia Rodrigo teams with White House to push for vaccines on social media | Twitter removing ‘Fleets’ function in August Overnight Defense: US to evacuate Afghan allies at end of July | Biden meets with final top US commander in Afghanistan | Weapons buyer nominee withdraws amid IG probe Biden meets with general who stepped down as commander in Afghanistan MORE said the Biden administration has recommended steps social media companies should take to address misinformation, and specifically called on Facebook to do more.

“Facebook should provide, publicly and transparently, data on the reach of COVID vaccine misinformation — not just engagement, but the reach of the misinformation, and the audience that is reaching,” Psaki said.

In a statement to The Hill, a Facebook spokesperson said “we’ve partnered with government experts, health authorities and researchers to take aggressive action against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines to protect public health.”

“So far, we’ve removed more than 18 million pieces of COVID misinformation, removed accounts that repeatedly break these rules, and connected more than 2 billion people to reliable information about COVID-19 and COVID vaccines across our apps,” the company said.

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