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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 BidenDefense lawyers for alleged Capitol rioters to get tours of U.S. Capitol Sasse to introduce legislation giving new hires signing bonuses after negative jobs report Three questions about Biden's conservation goals 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 EshooNIH readies grants for more research on long-term health effects of COVID-19 Lawmakers launch bipartisan caucus on SALT deduction Biden clean electricity standard faces high hurdles 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 WarnerFacebook board decision on Trump ban pleases no one Schumer works to balance a divided caucus's demands Senate Intel vows to 'get to the bottom' of 'Havana syndrome' attacks MORE (Va.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffFree Speech Inc.: The Democratic Party finds a new but shaky faith in corporate free speech Trump backs Stefanik to replace Cheney Gender politics hound GOP in Cheney drama MORE (Calif.), Senate Rules Committee ranking member Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharStrengthen CBP regulations to reduce opioid deaths Why isn't Washington defending American companies from foreign assaults? Republicans float support for antitrust reform after Trump Facebook ban upheld MORE (Minn.) and Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyBattle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers Overnight Health Care: Biden sets goal of at least one shot to 70 percent of adults by July 4 | White House to shift how it distributes unallocated vaccines to states Pressure builds for Biden to back vaccine patent waivers 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 WextonAdministration withdraws Trump-era proposal to loosen protections for transgender homeless people Trump the X-factor in Virginia governor race Xinjiang forced labor complex is growing — President Biden should work with Congress to curb it MORE (Va.), Don Beyer (Va.), and David CicillineDavid CicillineRepublicans float support for antitrust reform after Trump Facebook ban upheld Washington keeps close eye as Apple antitrust fight goes to court Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube execs to testify at Senate hearing on algorithms | Five big players to watch in Big Tech's antitrust fight 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.”