Study finds that social media platforms failed to act on 95 percent of coronavirus-related disinformation reported to them

As online misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine runs rampant, two-thirds of people who are not vaccinated against the virus believe common myths about vaccine

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced new legislation to hold digital platforms accountable for the spread of health-related misinformation online during public health emergencies. 

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, digital platforms have legal immunity from liability for the content users post. The law—which was intended to promote online speech and allow online services to grow—now distorts legal incentives for platforms to respond to digital misinformation on critical health issues, like Covid-19, and leaves people who suffer harm with little to no recourse.

The Health Misinformation Act would create an exception to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act’s liability shield for platforms with algorithms that promote health-related misinformation related to an existing public health emergency, as declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). The legislation directs HHS to issue guidelines as to what constitutes health misinformation

“For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans,” said Klobuchar. “These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation. Earlier this year, I called on Facebook and Twitter to remove accounts that are responsible for producing the majority of misinformation about the coronavirus, but we need a long term solution. This legislation will hold online platforms accountable for the spread of health-related misinformation. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how lethal misinformation can be and it is our responsibility to take action.”

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube did little while COVID-19 related misinformation spread on their platforms – fueling distrust in public health officials, promoting conspiracy theories, and putting lives at risk. Online platforms must stop the spread of deadly misinformation, and I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Klobuchar to hold these companies accountable,” said Luján. “As COVID-19 cases rise among the unvaccinated, so has the amount of misinformation surrounding vaccines on social media. Lives are at stake.”

One study found that during the coronavirus pandemic, social media platforms failed to act on 95 percent of coronavirus-related disinformation reported to them. In addition, vaccine hesitancy remains a large threat to public health. A recent poll found two-thirds of people who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus believe common myths about the coronavirus vaccine.

Klobuchar has been a leader in the fight against coronavirus and vaccine-related misinformation. In April, she and Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg highlighting a report issued by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which found that approximately 65 percent of anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter can be attributed to the “Disinformation Dozen” – 12 individuals who play leading roles in spreading digital disinformation about coronavirus vaccines. In light of these findings, Klobuchar and Luján called on Dorsey and Zuckerberg to remove these individuals from their social media platforms, which resulted in Twitter taking action against six users and issuing one permanent account suspension and Facebook taking action against several users.

In January, Klobuchar and Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Gary Peters (D-MI) sent a letter to Dorsey, Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki calling on them to combat the spread of false and misleading information related to coronavirus vaccines. 

Last year, Klobuchar joined Peters and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) to introduce the COVID-19 Misinformation & Disinformation Task Force Act, which would create a COVID-19 Misinformation & Disinformation Task Force led by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA). The Task Force would consist of representatives from a variety of federal agencies and would be responsible for creating an awareness campaign to help inform the public of the risks of misinformation and disinformation related to the pandemic, including explanations of how foreign adversaries may use the pandemic to change American’s opinions or cause panic.

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