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Lawmakers request monthly reports from tech giants on coronavirus misinformation

Democratic lawmakers want to crack down on ‘dangerous’ misinformation related to COVID-19

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In the interest of ensuring that COVID-19 information provided to the public is highly accurate, Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have sent letters to the largest online platforms requesting monthly reports containing instances of misinformation on the pandemic. 

The letters were sent to Facebook, Google, and Twitter and were signed by Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA), and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

The lawmakers said their aim is to curtail an alarming rise in false information circulating about the outbreak.

“Over the past several months, we have seen a troubling rise of false or misleading information related to COVID-19 disseminated by domestic and foreign actors on platforms such as yours. This disinformation has ranged from false statements about certain groups being immune from contracting the virus to unsubstantiated assertions about masks and vaccines,” the letter said.

“This type of disinformation is dangerous and can affect the health and well-being of people who use this false information to make critical health decisions during this pandemic,” the lawmakers added. 

Greater transparency needed

The tech giants reportedly agreed last month to hand over reports detailing misinformation to the European Commission, but the lawmakers said in the letter that “further transparency is needed” to gain a clear picture of the extent of disinformation and the efforts that are being taken to combat the problem.  

“Given the Committee’s jurisdiction over consumer protection and its ongoing oversight efforts around COVID-19 disinformation, we request that your company provide the Committee with monthly reports similar in scope to what you are providing the European Commission regarding your COVID-19 disinformation efforts as they relate to United States users of your platform,” they stated.

In recent months, tech giants have stepped up their efforts to fight false or misleading information about the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, Facebook began notifying users who had reacted or commented on a post containing misinformation that had since been removed. 

Facebook said the alerts would “connect people to COVID-19 myths debunked by the WHO including ones we’ve removed from our platform for leading to imminent physical harm.” 

YouTube has started weeding out videos that falsely link COVID-19 to the rollout of 5G, while Google has set aside $6.5 million in funding for organizations committed to combating misinformation on the virus.

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