With reports of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and disinformation proliferating on tech platforms, Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday said they want answers from the industry’s titans about what they’re doing to stop it.
“As the country enters this next phase in its fight against the virus — the success of which is dependent on hundreds of millions of Americans trusting the science behind these vaccines — the Committee is deeply troubled by news reports of coronavirus vaccine misinformation on your platform,” wrote Democratic leaders of the panel, including Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., to the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter.
It’s the latest application of pressure on tech companies from government officials to halt fake news about COVID-19. Just last week, the European Union said it expects Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter to continue delivering monthly reports on the subject for another six months.
There’s significant evidence that U.S. election misinformation and disinformation peddlers have shifted their focus to COVID-19 vaccines, with conservatives and anti-vaxxers leading the way online.
“While there were underlying efforts to spread misinformation about treatments and vaccinations throughout the year, these became more concerted with the announcements of vaccine approval, and more determined again when it began to be distributed,” Graphika said in a December analysis.
The Energy and Commerce panel members sought answers not just on what the tech giants are doing to halt false and misleading vaccine information, but what policy changes they’ve implemented to date and how they’re measuring success.
The lawmakers also want to know whether and how the tech companies are using information labels to notify users about fake news, whether they’re coordinating with one another in the battle against it and what kind of targeted advertisements most frequently appear alongside COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and disinformation.
In response to a request for comment, a Google spokesperson directed CyberScoop to a company blog in December on its efforts to combat bad COVID-19 vaccine information and promote accurate info. A Twitter spokesperson said the company had received the Democrats’ letter and intends to respond. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.