Cybersecurity

House Democrats press Twitter, Facebook, Google for reports on coronavirus disinformation

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are pressuring Twitter, Facebook and Google to be more transparent about COVID-19 disinformation on their platforms, asking the tech giants to produce monthly reports on the issue. 

In letters to the companies sent Wednesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and subcommittee leaders Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) detailed concerns that the "rise of false or misleading information" around the coronavirus could lead to real-world consequences.

"This disinformation has ranged from false statements about certain groups being immune from contracting the virus to unsubstantiated assertions about masks and vaccines," the Democrats wrote. "This type of disinformation is dangerous and can affect the health and well-being of people who use this false information to make critical health decisions during this pandemic."

The European Union last month requested that Twitter, Google and Facebook produce monthly reports on disinformation seen around COVID-19 and how they were combatting this issue. The three companies told The Verge that they planned to comply with the request. 

The lawmakers pointed to this decision in asking the companies to provide similar reports to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and that the companies brief committee staff by July 22 on disinformation concerns. 

"Given the Committee's jurisdiction over consumer protection and its ongoing oversight efforts around COVID-19 disinformation, we request that your company provide the Committee with monthly reports similar in scope to what you are providing the European Commission regarding your COVID-19 disinformation efforts as they relate to United States users of your platform," the members wrote. 

The committee held a held a hearing last month on disinformation during the coronavirus pandemic, with Doyle describing its rise in content as a "tsunami."

Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment on the letters. 

A spokesperson for Twitter told The Hill that "as part of our ongoing dialogue with the Committee members on these issues, we have received the letter and intend to respond" while not commenting further on potential reports. 

Top Twitter and Facebook officials testified to the House Intelligence Committee last month that disinformation around both the COVID-19 pandemic and recent protests following the death of George Floyd had surged.

"We definitely see the tactics in this space evolving, and we see the threat actors trying new efforts to get around the controls that are put in place," said Nathaniel Gleicher, the head of security at Facebook.

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