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Surgeon General Urges Social Media Platforms to Confront COVID Misinformation ‘Wildfire’

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy remarks on COVID-19 misinformation during a news conference at the White House, Washington, D.C., July 15, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Sunday urged social media companies to confront and snuff out the COVID misinformation “wildfire” circulating on their platforms.

“This is about the health of Americans and the reality is that misinformation is still spreading like wildfire in our country, aided and abetted by technology platforms,” Murthy said on Fox News Sunday. “I have been in dialogue with a number of technology companies in good faith efforts to express my concerns to them and where they have taken positive steps. And some of them have, I’ve acknowledged that, as we should do, but what I’ve also said very clearly to them, privately and also publicly, is that it’s not enough.”

During a press briefing Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the White House was “flagging” COVID misinformation for social media censors. She added Friday that social media platforms should work in concert to ban the purveyors of misinformation.

“You shouldn’t be banned from one platform and not others if you — for providing misinformation out there,” she noted.

Republicans have objected to the censorship campaign, noting that social media companies’ definition of ‘misinformation’ is ever-evolving and subjective. For instance, in May Facebook reversed a policy that prohibited content referencing the theory that COVID originated in a laboratory accident in Wuhan, China, after flagging those posts as conspiracy for many months.

With the White House missing consecutive vaccination targets, it is pursuing a more aggressive approach to convince the remainder of the population to get vaccinated by holding tech companies accountable for allowing misinformation to spread on their platforms.

“They’re killing people,” President Biden told reporters Friday in response to a question about Facebook. “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they’re killing people.”

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