Following concerns about the dissemination of false information about COVID-19, U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Facebook’s Oversight Board on Aug. 2 urging the company to not scale back its efforts to remove false and dangerous content.
“While public health experts and scientists around the globe have made major strides in understanding, combatting and building resiliency against COVID-19, the virus continues to pose a grave public health threat. Any action to roll back the existing – and notably limited – guardrails that protect Facebook and other Meta users from mis- and disinformation related to COVID-19 would have immense public health consequences,” the members wrote in their letter.
On June 22, Meta requested a policy advisory opinion from the oversight board on its approach to COVID-19 misinformation, suggesting they return to the less restrictive approach of labeling and demoting potentially harmful content on their platforms, as opposed to the current approach of removing misinformation that could directly contribute to the risk of harm. Meta cited greater access to authoritative guidance on COVID-19, as well as vaccines and therapeutic treatments and the perception that the pandemic has entered a less-severe state as reasons for a policy change.
However, while the scientific and public health communities have made great progress in their efforts to contain and combat COVID-19, the virus continues to pose a significant risk to people’s health and safety around the world, Schiff said. COVID-19 continues to kill hundreds of people each day in the United States and new, highly-contagious variants are constantly challenging the effectiveness of current public health safety measures, making it critical for social media platforms to provide the latest, scientifically-based public health guidance and combat misinformation.
For the past two years, Meta has taken important steps to remove dozens of pages, groups and accounts that systematically spread COVID-19 misinformation to millions of Facebook and Instagram users, and prevent bad-faith actors from returning to their platforms, the congress members acknowledged. The policies are critical to combatting the spread of the virus as new variants, as well as new diseases, continue to emerge, and will require continued effort and attention from social media platforms, they added.
“As Meta noted in their filing, they are seeking this ruling as ‘many, though not all, countries around the world seek a return to more normal life.’ That return to a more normal life should not lead to a return, or worse escalation, of health mis- and disinformation, particularly at a time when monkeypox is emerging as a global threat that some online users have been quick to exploit with disinformation. Surely, after the last two years, we can all agree on that basic principle,” the congress members wrote.
To read the full letter, visit schiff.house.gov.
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