WASHINGTON, Jul.15 (Reuters) – Facebook is not doing enough to stop the spread of false claims about COVID-19 and vaccines, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday as part of a new government rejection of misinformation in the United States.
Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, is having to work harder to remove inaccurate vaccine information from its platform, Psaki said.
She said 12 people were responsible for nearly 65% of the anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. The result was reported by the Center for Countering Digital Hate in May, but Facebook has denied the method.
“They all stay active on Facebook,” said Psaki. Facebook “also needs to act faster to remove harmful posts,” she said.
U.S. surgeon General Vivek Murthy also sounded the alarm over the growing wave of misinformation about COVID-19 and related vaccines, saying it is getting tougher to fight the pandemic and save lives.
“American lives are at risk,” he said in a statement.
In his first consultation as the country’s best doctor under President Joe Biden, Murthy urged tech companies to tweak their algorithms to further degrade false information and share more data with researchers and the government, to teachers, healthcare workers and the media to help combat misinformation.
“Misinformation is a serious threat to public health. They can create confusion, sow distrust, harm people’s health and undermine public health efforts, according to National Public Radio.
Misinformation fuels reluctance to get vaccinated, leading to preventable deaths, Murthy said, noting that misinformation can affect other health conditions and is a global problem.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the White House comments. The platform has put rules in place against certain false claims about COVID-19 and its vaccines. Still, researchers and lawmakers have long complained about the lax monitoring of content on their website.
Murthy said at a press conference at the White House that COVID-19 misinformation comes mainly from people who may not know they are making false claims, but also from some “bad actors”.
His advice also urges people not to post questionable information online. The head of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a group that tracks COVID-19 misinformation online, said it was insufficient.
“Tobacco packs say tobacco kills,” group chairman Imran Ahmed told NPR. “We need a ‘surgeon general warning: misinformation kills’ on social media.”
COVID-19 infections in the US were up about 11% last week from the previous week, with the highest increases seen in areas with vaccination rates less than 40%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Wednesday. Continue reading
The number of cases plummeted in the spring when the vaccine hit the market after a surge in infections over the winter, but vaccinations have slowed and only about 51% of the country has been vaccinated. Reuters data show.
“It was hard to get people not to want the COVID-19 vaccine,” realize that the risk is still there, “said Dr. Richard Besser, a former CDC chief who now runs the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told MSNBC.
Representatives of the country’s largest technology companies were not immediately available to comment on the advisory.
Reporting by Susan Heavey, Elizabeth Culliford, and Diane Bartz; Additional reporting from Andrea Shalal, Doyinsola Oladipo and Doina Chiacu. Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Heather Timmons and David Gregorio
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