Doctors urge Facebook to disclose data on COVID-19 misinformation

Doctors urge Facebook to disclose data on COVID-19 misinformation
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Hundreds of health care professionals are urging Facebook to disclose data on the breadth of COVID-19 disinformation on the platform, piling onto the criticism the social media giant has faced in recent weeks after a whistleblower leaked internal company documents. 

The health care workers underscored the importance of combating false claims after the vaccine became available to younger children.

“We simply cannot afford another deadly round of covid and vaccine misinformation,” they wrote in a letter to the company, now under the parent name Meta, Thursday. 

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“All of us — including technology platforms like Facebook — have a moral and civic duty to limit the spread of health disinformation,” the letter continues. 

The Doctors For America letter was signed by more than 500 health care professionals, including medical professors at New York University, Columbia University and Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

Facebook has been under pressure from lawmakers in Washington to crack down on false claims about the coronavirus. Democrats in Congress for months have called on the platform to take greater action to combat the spread of vaccine misinformation, and in July, Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek MurthyHarris announces .5B to fight shortage of doctors in underserved communities The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Arbery case, Biden spending bill each test views of justice The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House Democrats eye big vote on Biden measure MORE issued an advisory calling health misinformation an “urgent threat.” 

“Facebook must take immediate, urgent action to stop the deadly spread of COVID-19 disinformation on its platforms. Facebook must disclose all data about the scope, reach, and content of this disinformation and its impact on users for evaluation by independent public health researchers,” the health care workers wrote in the letter. 

Facebook has defended the policies it has in place to combat COVID-19 misinformation. After the Biden administration targeted social media companies for not doing enough to combat the false claims, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, Guy Rosen, posted a blog post stating that the platform had removed over "18 million instances of COVID-19 misinformation since the beginning of the pandemic.”

The post also touted Facebook’s fact-checking partnership that aims to label and reduce the visibility of content that is debunked.

But the company has not disclosed the amount of misinformation that has been identified on its platform or released the data the health care professionals and others have sought for months.

“Tracking and sharing data on the prevalence of misinformation is difficult for any subject, but especially for COVID-19 where the facts and guidance about the pandemic are updated over time. This is why no major tech company releases this data," a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.

"Despite all of these complications, we’ve removed more than 20 million pieces of content that violate our COVID misinformation policies, permanently banned thousands of repeat offenders from our services, and connected more than 2 billion people to reliable information about COVID-19 and vaccines," the spokesperson continued. “We will continue our dedication to ensuring billions of people are getting reliable information about COVID-19 on our services."

And reports citing internal documents from the company, leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen, reveal the company was slow to take action after alarms were raised about COVID-19 misinformation. 

The company has previously pushed back on reports citing Haugen’s comments and the leaked documents, arguing the internal research is being mischaracterized. 

— Updated at 4:15 p.m.