Feds step up strain on social media over false COVID-19 claims

Social media companies face renewed pressure from the federal government to tackle health misinformation as the Biden government makes a push to encourage reluctant Americans to get COVID-19 vaccines.

General surgeon Vivek MurthyVivek MurthySunday Shows Preview: Feds Slam Social Media Over COVID-19 Misinformation Facebook Resists White House Criticism, Says It Looks For Scapegoats Overnight: CDC Director Warns of “Unvaccinated Pandemic” | Biden Says Social Media Platforms “Kill People” | Florida accounts for MORE of 20 percent of new cases issued a recommendation Thursday that misinformation was an “urgent threat” and urged tech companies, whom it accused of compounding the misinformation, to take action to combat the false and often dangerous claims .

“Health misinformation didn’t start with COVID-19. What is different now is the speed and extent with which health misinformation is spreading, ”Murthy said at a White House briefing.

The US is wrong President BidenJoe BidenBiden Calls on Congress to Pass Suffrage Laws on Anniversary of John Lewis’ Death Afghan Taliban Officials Meet in Qatar Amid US Troop Withdrawal The Biden administration is investigating ‘Havana Syndrome’ cases in Austria MORE‘s July 4 goal for 70 percent of American adults to get at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine, the country’s vaccination rate has fallen and the Delta variant is spreading rapidly into unvaccinated pockets across the country.

Now that the government is pushing for Americans to be vaccinated, officials are fighting a force of false anti-vaccination claims that researchers have identified on social media platforms.

A report published from the Center for Countering Digital Hate earlier this year found that 12 accounts were responsible for up to 65 percent of anti-vaccine content, according to an analysis of more than 812,000 posts from Facebook and Twitter between February 1 and March 16 .

“Modern technology companies have made it possible to poison our information environment through misinformation without them being responsible to the perpetrators,” Murthy said at the press conference on Thursday.

“They’ve developed product features like“ Like ”buttons that reward us for sharing emotionally charged content … and their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click and pull us deeper and deeper into a source of Misinformation. ”He added.

Biden bluntly blamed the social media platforms and the role they play in spreading COVID-19 disinformation.

“They kill people,” Biden told reporters on Friday. “The only pandemic we have is one of the unvaccinated. And they kill people. “

Facebook spokesman Dani Lever dismissed Biden’s assessment, saying in a statement Friday that the platform “will not be distracted by allegations that are not supported by the facts.”

Lever announced Facebook’s push to connect users with authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines.

“The facts show that Facebook helps save lives. Period, ”she said.

Brittany Allen, trust and security architect at fraud prevention firm Sift, said a quick search for “vaccine kills” on Facebook Friday morning led them to two public groups with about 500 to 2,000 members spreading misinformation about the vaccine.

“While this may seem like a drop in the ocean to the overall Facebook user base, the chance of something spreading through this share feature is far greater than just that number of group members,” Allen told The Hill.

A Facebook spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment when asked about the two groups that Allen identified.

In addition, Allen said posts in the encrypted messaging app Telegram included screenshots from Facebook with misinformation.

“We can’t think of Facebook as these kind of isolated media units either, as it is so easy to take screenshots or share outside of the platform,” said Allen.

Misinformation experts warned of the threats posed by viral misinformation, both in the context of the pandemic and beyond, and some say government pressure could be crucial to force the hands of tech giants.

“The surgeon general throws tech companies a thief,” said Darrell West, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.

“It makes it clear to tech companies that people are much more careful than in the past. People get a lot of information from these social media sites, they really have a responsibility to fight misinformation, ”he added.

Prominent researchers from the Shorenstein Center at Harvard Kennedy School have posted a comment published by NBC News the recommendation of the general surgeon described as “turning point in the history of the Internet”.

“Just as his predecessor dealt with the tobacco companies decades ago, he is taking on the technology industry by defining how misinformation harms Americans. From our point of view, this recommendation shows that social media is a product that requires strict consumer protection regulations, ”write the research director of the Shorenstein Center, Joan Donovan, and the research fellow, Jennifer Nilsen.

Although the spread of health misinformation did not start with the pandemic, it drew attention to the problem and forced the platforms to develop guidelines to mitigate anti-vaccine content.

Twitter, Facebook, and Google, which owns YouTube, have defended their policies to combat COVID-19 misinformation despite opposition from the White House and stakeholders.

A Facebook spokesperson promoted the company’s partnership with government experts, health officials and researchers to “take aggressive action against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines to protect public health.”

The spokesman boasted that Facebook had removed “more than 18 million COVID misinformation” and accounts that “repeatedly violated these rules”.

YouTube spokeswoman Elena Hernandez said the video-sharing platform was removing content that violates its COVID-19 misinformation guidelines, downgrading “borderline videos” and exposing “highlighted” authoritative content about COVID-19.

A Twitter spokesperson said the platform would “continue to take enforcement action on content that violates our guidelines on misleading information about COVID-19” and improve efforts to “collect credible, reliable health information.”

Asked at a press conference in the White House on Friday whether she thinks Facebook’s answer is “sufficient”, press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden’s silence on filibuster strains strains Democrats’ patience Sunday shows preview: Feds slam social media over COVID-19 misinformation “Shadow State”: Comprehensive Corporate Governance to Escape Constitutional Boundaries said: “Definitely not.”

“We’re talking about additional steps that should be taken,” said Psaki.

“We are faced with a life-threatening question and everyone must help ensure that there is accurate information. Obviously, these are steps they took. You are a private company. They will make decisions about further steps to take. It is clear that more can be taken, ”she added.

The recommendation of the general surgeon underscores the deep divide in the moderation of digital content.

Democrats in Congress have urged social media platforms to take stronger action to combat misinformation online, arguing that companies are not taking enough stand against false claims. Leading figures in this batch, like Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSunday Previews: Feds Hit Social Media Over COVID-19 Misinformation About Tech Executives Increased Political Donations, While Lobbying Urged Klobuchar and Stacey Abrams to Unite at MORE Voting Event (D-Minn.) And Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSanders seeks a chance to put his stamp on the government Democrats face huge hurdles despite promising start The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Goldman Sachs – Schumer sets deadline for bipartisan infrastructure plan MORE (D-Va.), Cheered the counselor.

Meanwhile, prominent Republicans continue their efforts to tackle misinformation on the Internet.

The Trump administration’s coronavirus test tsar Brett Giroir compared Murthy’s recommendations for platforms to combat misinformation with “government censorship”.

“The state censorship of alternative views (even if they are wrong) will lead to more distrust of the government and more concern about vaccines, not less.” Giroir tweeted.

His remarks Echo claims congressional Republicans rose up against the platforms, stating that they censor content with an anti-conservative bias. However, there was no evidence to support the allegations.

Addressing censorship allegations is described as a top priority on platforms posted by leading GOP members of the House of Representatives on the Justice and Energy and Trade Committees

Given the political polarization, it is unclear how big the impact counseling will be in fighting online disinformation, said Saif Shahin, assistant professor at the American University’s School of Communications.

“People believe in disinformation because it fits into their style of larger narratives about the world and about society and America. So there is also a significant need for disinformation. People who are willing to believe certain things about others, whether they are true or not, ”he said.

Even if mainstream platforms could be wiped off the false claims, new alternative platforms would fill the void, he added.

“There will always be a new parler,” he said, referring to the app that gained popularity during the elections for its practical content moderation approach. “Or some other social media app that doesn’t.”

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