Surgeon general calls out platforms over COVID-19 misinformation

On Thursday, the surgeon general published a new report calling on social media platforms to make new investments in combating online coronavirus misinformation.

The report calls for an all of society push to address vaccine and coronavirus misinformation, including sweeping policy recommendations for companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy specifically calls on companies to redesign their algorithms to “avoid amplifying misinformation.” He also suggests that they build more “friction” into sharing functions that urge users to rethink whether to share a post containing false information.

Murthy also recommends that platforms put out “clear consequences for accounts that repeatedly violate platform policies,” like instituting broader bans and suspensions for sharing misinformation.

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last December, Facebook pledged to remove all COVID-19 vaccine misinformation after heightened criticism of the platform’s role in spreading misinformation. Prior to the move, Facebook only removed related misinformation that could cause “imminent physical harm.” Currently, the vaccine policy extends to all content that has been “debunked by public health experts.”

“While health misinformation has always been a problem, today it spreads at unprecedented speed and scale,” the report says. “We are all still learning how to navigate this new information environment. But we know enough to be sure that misinformation is an urgent threat, and that we can and must confront it together.”

The stern warning comes amid rising case numbers and deaths from COVID-19, falling most heavily among the unvaccinated population. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the US averaging more than 20,000 new cases per day. Deaths linked to COVID-19, typically a trailing indicator, have also begun to tick upward.

Alongside the misinformation effort, the White House has also kicked off a string of events encouraging people to get vaccinated. On Wednesday, popular actress and singer Olivia Rodrigo joined President Joe Biden at the White House to inspire young people to get vaccinated.

“It’s important to have conversations with friends and family members,” Rodrigo said at Wednesday’s press briefing, “and actually get to a vaccination site, which you can do more easily than ever before.”

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