Senators urge Fb, Google, and Twitter to sort out vaccine misinformation

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) speaks on the fourth day of the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Candidate Amy Coney Barrett before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 15, 2020.

Susan Walsh | Pool | Reuters

A group of Democratic Senators, led by Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Wrote to the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Google’s subsidiary YouTube on Thursday, urging companies to address vaccine misinformation and make their efforts more transparent .

As the pandemic rages on, Klobuchar, along with Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) And Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Told CEOs that it was “important” for Americans to get accurate information about the coronavirus vaccines .

“While we understand that your companies have implemented vaccine-related misinformation removal policies and dedicated resources to stop the spread of misinformation, we believe that more needs to be done,” the Senators wrote. “It is imperative that you are transparent about how much harmful misinformation is being displayed on your platforms and how effective your efforts are to remove this content so that organizations and public health professionals can respond appropriately.”

The Senators added that platforms must enforce their policies to limit the risk of misinformation and that users should actively promote reliable information.

Companies already have policies in place to clean up misinformation and increase reliable sources. However, coverage during the pandemic has shown that action to combat dangerous and inaccurate news is often taken after many users have already seen it.

Platforms have also faced conflicting pressures from Democrats and Republicans in Congress over how to approach content moderation overall. Democrats are pushing for companies to take more drastic measures to ban misinformation and hate speech alike from their services, while some Republicans fear that such efforts would disproportionately target conservative language due to the alleged bias of moderators and algorithms.

The senators asked companies to respond to a series of questions regarding both transparency and the enforcement of misinformation on their platforms.

In terms of transparency, the senators asked how much coronavirus and vaccine information is reported and removed on average daily since the pandemic began. They also want to know how long it takes for the platforms to remove messages that are flagged as incorrect and whether they are taking action on accounts that are responsible for a high level of misinformation.

Senators asked companies that have exemptions from their policies for politicians – like Twitter, which exempts world leaders from some of its harshest penalties but still reduces the circulation of messages that violate policies – whether related to Vaccines also exempt misinformation from moderation guidelines if they are made public by such users.

Finally, they asked if the platforms will work with public health groups to promote vaccination and how they will ensure that communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic receive accurate information.

This is not the first time that lawmakers have urged companies to take action against misinformation. Klobuchar, for example, previously urged the platforms to take a strong stance on misinformation in connection with voting in the run-up to the 2020 elections.

A Facebook spokesperson pointed to the company’s policy update in December to allow ads for the vaccine and secure access to it, while content intended to exploit the pandemic for commercial purposes remains banned. Ads or organic posts claiming to sell the vaccine would be rejected, Facebook added, as would false claims about the vaccines exposed by health professionals on the platform. The company said it would take time for its systems and teams to be trained on the new guidelines.

A Google spokesperson referred to a blog post in December that detailed how accurate vaccine information is displayed to users. Google said when users search for Covid-19 vaccines it would provide a list of the authorized vaccines available in a user section with information about each vaccine. Google has also awarded $ 250 million in advertising grants to governments to enable them to make public announcements related to the virus. According to Google, millions of dollars have been invested in fact-checking initiatives related to virus information.

YouTube also has guidelines against Covid-19 anti-vaccine content and will continuously update them as necessary. Steps have also been taken to make reliable sources appear high in search results and restrict recommendations for so-called borderline content that approximates prohibited behavior.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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