Facebook and others doing ‘not nearly enough’ to stop COVID misinformation, surgeon general says


U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy again criticized the role of social media in spreading COVID-19 misinformation Sunday, a day after Facebook Inc. quietly released a delayed report on its top-performing links.

“The speed, scale and sophistication with which [misinformation] is spreading and impacting our health is really unprecedented,” Murthy said Sunday morning during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And it’s happening largely, in part, aided and abetted by social-media platforms.”

While acknowledging that some steps have been taken by social-media companies to crack down on the spread of misinformation, Murthy said “it’s not nearly enough.”

“There are people who are superspreaders of misinformation,” he said. “And there are algorithms, still, which continue to serve up more and more misinformation to people who encounter it the first time. These are things that companies can and must change. And I think they have a moral responsibility to do so quickly and transparently.”

Murthy cited an online myth that spurred the Food and Drug Administration to tweet Saturday that people should not use a drug intended for livestock as a treatment or to prevent COVID-19. The drug ivermectin can be toxic to humans, and Murthy said its use highlights “the profound cost of health misinformation.”

Murthy’s comments came hours after a Saturday-night news dump by Facebook
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which released its delayed first-quarter “content transparency report.” On Friday, the New York Times reported the findings had been shelved earlier this year after Facebook executives feared it would make the company look bad. Among the Facebook report’s findings: Its most-viewed link between January and March was a news story about a CDC investigation into the death of a doctor who had received the COVID-19 vaccine two weeks earlier, and that the Epoch Times, a newspaper that has spread right-wing conspiracy theories, was the 19th-most popular Facebook page in the first quarter.

While the news story about the doctor was legitimate, some questioned why an article that cast doubt on the safety of the vaccine and was promoted heavily by anti-vaccine groups was distributed so widely by Facebook’s algorithm.

Facebook had released its second-quarter content transparency report last week. That too, drew criticism.

In a Medium blog post, Brian Boland, Facebook’s former vice president of product marketing, sharply criticized Facebook’s report, calling the data released “generally useless” and saying “this entire effort is a PR stunt.”



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