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Democrats urge Biden to address 'infodemic' of COVID-19 disinformation, misinformation

Democrats urge Biden to address 'infodemic' of COVID-19 disinformation, misinformation
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Democratic lawmakers on Thursday urged President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBudowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit DC might win US House vote if it tries Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman inks deal with IMG Models MORE to take immediate steps after taking office to combat the "infodemic" of disinformation and misinformation surrounding COVID-19.

“Understanding and addressing misinformation – and the wider phenomena of declining public trust in institutions, political polarization, networked social movements, and online information environments that create fertile grounds for the spread of falsehoods – is a critical part of our nation’s public health response,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Biden.

They pointed to concerns around emerging COVID-19 vaccines leading to a further spike in online disinformation and misinformation, noting their worry that such content would lead to fewer Americans getting vaccinated.

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The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Democrats urge tech giants to change algorithms that facilitate spread of extremist content Bottom line MORE (Calif.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health. Others Democrats who signed were Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerModerates vow to 'be a force' under Biden The next pandemic may be cyber — How Biden administration can stop it Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief MORE (Va.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGlenn Greenwald warns against media censorship amid concerns over domestic terrorism Biden to keep Wray as FBI director Biden urged to reverse Pompeo-Trump move on Houthis MORE (Calif.), Senate Rules Committee ranking member Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Biden agenda, Trump impeachment trial dominate Klobuchar says Senate impeachment trial of former official is constitutional: 'We have precedent' MORE (Minn.) and Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyThere's no excuse for the government to put dangerous cars on the road Freshman GOP lawmaker apologizes for Hitler quote Newly sworn-in Republican lawmaker condemned by Holocaust Museum after Hitler quote MORE, chair of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection and commerce.

“The COVID-19 infodemic is about to dangerously intersect with a misinformation-laden anti-vaccine movement that has led to tragic consequences in our country,” the lawmakers wrote.

To combat that threat, the lawmakers urged Biden to appoint Joan Donovan — research director at the Harvard Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy — to serve as a misinformation expert on his COVID-19 task force.

“As we seek to galvanize a whole-of-society effort to address these twin threats, attention to the threat of misinformation to that response will be critically important,” they wrote.

The World Health Organization earlier this year described the surge of misinformation and disinformation around COVID-19 as an “infodemic,” noting that the amount of time that it had spent working to debunk “myths and rumors” around the virus.

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A group of health workers in May warned major social media platforms that an increase in COVID-19 misinformation was endangering lives.

"Tech companies have tried to act, taking down certain content when it is flagged, and allowing the World Health Organization to run free ads. But their efforts are far from enough," more than 100 doctors and nurses wrote to the social media groups.

On Thursday, a separate group of House Democrats urged Biden to make addressing disinformation and misinformation a major priority once in office.

Members of the Congressional Task Force on Digital Citizenship led by Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonPorter loses seat on House panel overseeing financial sector Democratic lawmakers call for Pence to invoke 25th Amendment, remove Trump from office 7 surprise moments from a tumultuous year in politics MORE (Va.), Don Beyer (Va.), and David CicillineDavid CicillineHouse formally sends impeachment to Senate, putting Trump on trial for Capitol riot K Street navigates virtual inauguration week Washington state rep joins list of Republicans voting to impeach Trump MORE (R.I.) sent a letter to Biden advocating for him to prioritize research, education and transparency to combat online foreign and domestic disinformation and misinformation threats.

“Disinformation and misinformation are not partisan issues,” the House Democrats wrote. “They affect our collective public health, safety, and democracy.”

The lawmakers asked that Biden take steps including launching a “multiagency digital democracy task force” to develop a federal strategy to combat online disinformation, along with funding media literacy programs, and to collaborate with foreign allied nations in fighting this issue.

“The United States has fallen behind global allies in understanding and working to combat disinformation and misinformation, and foreign adversaries have identified it as a point of weakness for our nation,” the lawmakers wrote. “We encourage you to work with researchers, scholars, and civil society to understand the impact of disinformation and misinformation on American society and we stand ready to assist you in putting forward these new initiatives.”