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U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory on Thursday about health misinformation focused heavily on misinformation regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, health misinformation has led people to resist wearing masks in high-risk settings. It's led them to turn down proven treatments and to choose not to get vaccinated. This has led to avoidable illnesses and deaths," Murthy told reporters Thursday.
Murthy characterized misinformation about coronavirus vaccines as “one of the biggest obstacles that’s preventing us from ending this pandemic.” He defined misinformation as false, misleading, or inaccurate information based on the best evidence available.
"While it often appears innocuous on social media apps and retail sites or search engines, the truth is that misinformation takes away our freedom to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our loved ones," he added.
The advisory offers advice on what various institutions can do to combat health misinformation, including technology platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. It encourages tech platforms to redesign algorithms to avoid misinformation, to give researchers useful data on what misinformation users are accessing, and to increase staffing to monitor the spread of misinformation.
Tech platforms have come under fire for censorship recently, with some Republicans and conservatives calling for the break up of companies such as Facebook.
The report also suggested ways for people working in other industries to combat the spread of misinformation regarding the pandemic. For instance, healthcare professionals are encouraged to engage "proactively" with patients and correct any bad information they have. Journalists are also encouraged to "use a broader range of credible sources — particularly local sources."
The report does not mention any actual cases of misinformation, but it does cite a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate that claims that a dozen people are responsible for spreading the bulk of misinformation about vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines. Those people include Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
The surgeon general's report out Thursday was followed by an announcement from the Rockefeller Foundation that it will grant $13.5 million in funding to projects aimed at building public trust in vaccines by countering inaccurate information online. The projects that will receive the grant money will be announced by the end of 2021, the organization said.
“Science alone is not sufficient to drive action," said Estelle Willie, director of health policy and communications at the Rockefeller Foundation. "The best data analysis in the world will not stop an outbreak if people at risk are not aware of the problem, do not think it is a real threat, do not trust the messenger, or do not know what actions to take to protect themselves and their loves ones.”
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Original Author: David Hogberg, Cassidy Morrison
Original Location: Surgeon general calls on tech platforms to counter COVID-19 misinformation