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 BidenMacro grid will keep the lights on Pelosi suggests filibuster supporters 'dishonor' MLK's legacy on voting rights Sanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown 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 — Biden's misinformation warning Lawmakers call on tech firms to take threat of suicide site seriously, limit its visibility Eshoo: More federal incentives needed for 'orphan' drug makers 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 WarnerWe are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two Senate Judiciary Committee to debate key antitrust bill MORE (Va.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta Democrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Overnight Health Care — Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 tests MORE (Calif.), Senate Rules Committee ranking member Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support The Memo: 2024 chatter reveals Democratic nervousness Senate antitrust bill has serious ramifications for consumers and small businesses MORE (Minn.) and Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyHillicon Valley — Dems press privacy groups over kids' safety Castor, Schakowsky seek information on children's online safety program Bottom line 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.

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 WextonVirginia Supreme Court approves new lines for key swing districts Proposed Virginia maps put rising-star House Democrats at risk The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Rising prices undercut Biden agenda MORE (Va.), Don Beyer (Va.), and David CicillineDavid CicillineDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit In their own words: Lawmakers, staffers remember Jan. 6 insurrection Lawmakers call for investigation into proposed AT&T WarnerMedia, Discovery merger 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.”