Senators Urge Tech Companies to Crack Down on Coronavirus Vaccine Misinformation
January 25, 2021 Topic: Politics Region: Americas Blog Brand: Coronavirus Tags: Section 230Social MediaCoronavirusFake NewsCensorship

Senators Urge Tech Companies to Crack Down on Coronavirus Vaccine Misinformation

Social media platforms have struggled with how to deal with false information on the coronavirus.

A group of senators led by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has written to the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube asking them to take necessary steps to quickly take down vaccine misinformation on their respective platforms.

The lawmakers asserted that it is “vital” for Americans to receive accurate information about the potentially life-saving coronavirus vaccines as the disease continues to kill between two and four thousand people a day.

“While we understand that your companies have implemented policies regarding the removal of vaccine-related misinformation and dedicated resources to stop the spread of misinformation, we believe more must be done,” the senators wrote.

“It is imperative that you be transparent about the amount of harmful misinformation that appears on your platforms and the effectiveness of your efforts to remove this content, so that public health organizations and experts can respond appropriately.”

For months, tech companies have aimed to remove vaccine misinformation and elevate reliable sources, but, as critics point out, they often take effect only after many users already have seen the inaccurate postings.

For example, Google has launched new coronavirus-related information panels in its search results in an effort to help stop the spread of misinformation. When an individual searches for anything related to coronavirus vaccines on the platform, the search feature will first list authorized vaccines in their respective area and show information panels on each vaccine, the company said in a blog post.

As more vaccines get green-lighted by health authorities, Google noted that it will introduce the search feature in more countries, in addition to providing $1.5 million to fund fact-checking research and the creation of a hub for journalists to improve access to “scientific expertise and research updates” on vaccines.

“As the world turns its focus to the deployment of vaccines, the type of information people need will evolve,” the blog post said. “Communities will be vaccinated at an unprecedented pace and scale. This will require sharing information to educate the public, including addressing vaccine misperceptions and hesitance, and helping to surface official guidance to people on when, where and how to get vaccinated.”

Back in March, Google’s YouTube video-sharing service first launched the coronavirus knowledge panels, which already have been viewed four hundred billion times, according to the company. YouTube in October also updated its policies that aimed to remove videos containing false claims about coronavirus vaccines.

Other tech behemoths have also set their sights on tackling vaccine misinformation. Facebook has announced that it would start removing false claims about coronavirus vaccines, which is part of its revamped policy on posts that could lead to “imminent physical harm.”

The social-media giant had previously made it more difficult to see vaccine misinformation by “downranking” it, which makes it less visible in news feeds. But now, such posts will be taken down entirely if the claims had been discredited or contradicted by reputable health agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Image: Reuters.