U.S. Surgeon General, Rockefeller Foundation Announce Big Initiatives to Address ‘Urgent Threat’ of Vaccine Misinformation

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The U.S. surgeon general on Thursday issued an advisory calling on tech companies to crack down on what the office called vaccine “misinformation.” The same day, The Rockefeller Foundation announced $13.5 million in new funding to combat vaccine “misinformation and disinformation.”

By Megan Redshaw

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on Thursday issued an advisory warning the American public about the “urgent threat” of health misinformation and disinformation that have “threatened the U.S. response to COVID-19 and continue to prevent Americans from getting vaccinated, prolonging the pandemic and putting lives at risk.”

 

The 22-page advisory calls on Big Tech and social media companies to take more responsibility to stop the online spread of health misinformation.

The advisory blamed “misinformation” for causing people to decline COVIDvaccines, reject public health measures such as masking and physical distancing and using unproven treatments.

Murthy, who operates under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said in a press release, “As Surgeon General, my job is to help people stay safe and healthy, and without limiting the spread of health misinformation, American lives are at risk.”

According to the HHS press release, whether “health misinformation” is false, inaccurate or misleading will be determined by the “best available evidence.”

The advisory further defined the “best available evidence” standard as the preferred benchmark because “claims can be highly misleading and harmful even if the science on an issue isn’t yet settled.”

“We can meaningfully improve the health information environment even without a consensus definition of misinformation,” Murthy said.

 

The full advisory lays out recommendations for families, health professionals, researchers, educators, media, funders, government and technology platforms, and urges individuals to take responsibility to limit the spread of misinformation.

The advisory calls for media and social media companies to increase staff to moderate posts, amplify preferred voices, improve algorithms to address misinformation, moderate live streams and impose “clear consequences for accounts that repeatedly violate platform policies.”

Schools and educational institutions are encouraged to crack down on misinformation by educating people on “tactics used by those who deny scientific consensus on health issues” and “introduce conspiracies.”

In an interview with NPR, Murthy said Americans must do their part to fight misinformation. “COVID has really brought into sharp focus the full extent of damage that health misinformation is doing,” Murthy said ahead of the advisory’s release.

Surgeon general’s advisories are reserved for significant public health challenges that demand immediate attention.

In a White House press briefing Thursday, press secretary Jen Psaki singled out Facebook as needing to do more to combat COVID vaccine misinformation on its platform.

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