Democratic senators urge Facebook, Google and Twitter to crack down on vaccine misinformation

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

Susan Walsh | Pool | Reuters

A group of Democratic senators wrote to the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, Google and its subsidiary YouTube Thursday asking the companies to crack down on vaccine misinformation and make their efforts more transparent.

As the pandemic rages on, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. and Gary Peters, D-Mich. told the CEOs that is “vital” for Americans to get accurate information about the coronavirus vaccines.

“While we understand that your companies have implemented policies regarding the removal of vaccine-related misinformation and dedicated resources to stop the spread of misinformation, we believe more must be done,” the senators wrote. “It is imperative that you be transparent about the amount of harmful misinformation that appears on your platforms and the effectiveness of your efforts to remove this content, so that public health organizations and experts can respond appropriately.”

The senators added that platforms must enforce their policies to limit exposure to misinformation and should actively promote reliable information to users.

The companies already have policies in place to remove misinformation and elevate reliable sources, but reporting throughout the pandemic has revealed that measures to crack down on dangerous and inaccurate messages often come after many users have already seen them.

Platforms have also faced conflicting pressure from Democrats and Republicans in Congress on how they should approach content moderation overall. Democrats tend to push for the companies to take more drastic action to eliminate misinformation and hate speech alike from their services, while some Republicans worry that such efforts would disproportionately target conservative speech due to alleged bias of moderators and algorithms.

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

On transparency, the senators asked how much coronavirus and vaccine-related information is reported and removed each day on average since the beginning of the pandemic. They also want to know how long it takes the platforms to remove messages that are marked false and if they take action on accounts responsible for high levels of misinformation.

The senators asked companies that have exceptions to their policies for politicians (like Twitter, which exempts world leaders from some of its harshest penalties but still reduces distribution for violating messages) whether vaccine-related misinformation is also exempt from moderation policies when posted by such users.

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

This is not the first time lawmakers have called on the companies to crack down on misinformation. Kloubuchar, for example, previously urged the platforms to take a strong stance on misinformation around voting in the lead up to the 2020 election.

Representatives from the companies addressed in the letter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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