NYC wants the ‘Dirty Dozen’ kicked off Facebook, Twitter for spreading ‘dangerous’ COVID misinformation

·3 min read

The city’s top health official accused Facebook and Twitter on Monday of stifling local vaccination efforts by facilitating “dangerous” coronavirus misinformation on their platforms at a time when COVID-19 infections are back on the rise in New York.

Dr. David Chokshi, Mayor de Blasio’s Health Department commissioner, aimed the broadside in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who faced criticism from the White House over the same issue last week.

“Your failure to effectively stop the spread of this dangerous information on your platforms and vigorously enforce your own policies targeting misinformation is a threat to the public health of New York City residents and a serious impediment to our efforts to vaccinate all New York City residents,” Chokshi wrote to Zuckerberg and Dorsey. “In short, the spread of misinformation is costing New Yorkers their lives.”

More than 40% of the city’s population remains unvaccinated, according to Health Department data.

According to polling, a significant chunk of unvaccinated Americans aren’t getting inoculated due to concerns about the safety of the shots — a baseless belief that Chokshi said Facebook and Twitter fuel by allowing COVID-19 misinformation on their sites.

“The key driver in this persistent vaccine hesitancy in New York City is the proliferation and spread of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on your social media platforms,” he wrote.

Chokshi took particular issue with Facebook and Twitter looking the other way to a group of users infamously dubbed the “Dirty Dozen” of COVID-19 misinformation.

“Many of the Dirty Dozen continue to utilize your platforms to spread misinformation,” the health commissioner wrote. “Alarmingly, the Health Department has seen that active social media misinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccines has only become more prevalent in New York City in recent months.”

According to a May study from the Center for Countering Digital Hate that Chokshi cited in his letter, the 12 users who make up the “Dirty Dozen” are responsible for 65% of all vaccine misinformation spread on social media.

One of the most infamous “Dirty Dozen” users is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who still retains Facebook and Twitter accounts, where he regularly posts anti-vaccine screeds.

But Facebook took issue with the finding that the “Dozen” is responsible for 65% of coronavirus-related misinformation, arguing the figure is far lower and that many of the forums and groups operated by those users have since been banned.

“We permanently ban Pages, Groups, and accounts that repeatedly break our rules on COVID misinformation, and this includes more than a dozen Pages, Groups, and accounts from these individuals,” Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said.

A representative for Twitter did not return a request for comment.

Chokshi’s lament against Facebook and Twitter comes as the city is seeing the Delta variant of COVID-19 cause a concerning uptick in infections after months of progress in the fight against the pandemic. Other parts of the country are reporting similar infection spikes.

White House officials said last week they are exploring whether legal action can be taken against social media sites over coronavirus misinformation on their platforms, with President Biden even accusing Facebook of “killing people.”

After his comment drew intense backlash from Facebook executives, Biden changed his tune, saying it’s the misinformation itself, not the social media platform, that’s killing people.

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