Surgeon general says social media companies have 'enabled misinformation' on vaccines

Surgeon general says social media companies have 'enabled misinformation' on vaccines
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U.S. Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek MurthyFDA panel endorses COVID-19 booster shots for older Americans, rejects widespread use Facebook announces crackdown on 'coordinated social harm' campaigns Biden to speak at UN general assembly in person MORE says social media companies have “enabled misinformation” on vaccines.

Murthy made the comment during a White House briefing on Thursday as he was elaborating on his advisory warning of the dangers of misinformation on the nation’s response to COVID-19. 

“Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users,” Murthy said.

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The surgeon general then elaborated on how features of social media platforms, such as "like" buttons and algorithms, pull Americans “deeper and deeper” into misinformation.

“They’ve allowed people to intentionally spread misinformation, what we call disinformation, to have extraordinary reach,” he said of modern technology. "They design product features, such as 'like' buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally charged content, not accurate content. And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation."

In his advisory, Murthy calls on technology platforms to beef up their monitoring of misinformation and to redesign their algorithms to avoid amplifying misinformation

The advisory also suggests companies impose “clear consequences” for accounts that violate platform policies.

Tech companies have come under pressure to remove misinformation about COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, particularly about vaccines.

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiWhy does Biden's vaccine mandate not apply to welfare recipients and others? Overnight Health Care — FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all White House to host global COVID-19 summit next week MORE said the Biden administration has recommended steps social media companies should take to address misinformation, and specifically called on Facebook to do more.

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“Facebook should provide, publicly and transparently, data on the reach of COVID vaccine misinformation — not just engagement, but the reach of the misinformation, and the audience that is reaching,” Psaki said.

In a statement to The Hill, a Facebook spokesperson said “we’ve partnered with government experts, health authorities and researchers to take aggressive action against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines to protect public health.”

“So far, we’ve removed more than 18 million pieces of COVID misinformation, removed accounts that repeatedly break these rules, and connected more than 2 billion people to reliable information about COVID-19 and COVID vaccines across our apps,” the company said.