E&C Committee Leaders Investigate COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation Online
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA), and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) demanded answers from Facebook, Twitter, and Google today as part of their ongoing investigation into tech companies’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in response to reports that COVID-19 vaccine misinformation is escalating on their platforms. Today’s letters from the Committee leaders are a follow-up to letters they sent to the same companies in July, expressing deep concern regarding the rampant rise of COVID-19 disinformation more generally.
“As the country enters this next phase in its fight against the virus – the success of which is dependent on hundreds of millions of Americans trusting the science behind these vaccines – the Committee is deeply troubled by news reports of coronavirus vaccine misinformation on your platform,” the five lawmakers wrote to CEOs Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Sundar Pichai.
In December, the Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorizations for two COVID-19 vaccines found to be safe and effective based on available evidence, and states are now administering these vaccines to targeted populations. The Committee leaders pointed out that the proliferation of false and misleading information on platforms is so widespread that the American Medical Association wrote to the companies last month urging them to “guard against disinformation.”
“These COVID-19 vaccines and others in development present hope in turning the deadly tide of the last year and can be a powerful tool in our efforts to contain the pandemic – but only if the public has confidence in them,” the five Committee chairs continued. “Thus, it is imperative that [Facebook, Twitter, and Google] stop the spread of false or misleading information about coronavirus vaccines on its platform. False and misleading information is dangerous, and if relied on by the public to make critical health choices, it could result in the loss of human life."
To better understand what efforts the three tech giants are taking to curb vaccine misinformation and disinformation on their platforms, the Committee leaders demanded answers and information, including:
- Details of all actions the companies have taken to limit false or misleading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation on their platforms;
- Descriptions of all policy changes the companies have implemented to stop the spread of false or misleading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, and how the companies are measuring the effectiveness of each such policy change;
- Whether the companies have used information labels or other types of notifications to alert users about COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation, and if so, the date(s) it first began implanting labels or notifications and how the companies are measuring its effectiveness;
- Details about the five common targeted advertisements that appear alongside COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation on the platforms;
- Details on the companies’ COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and disinformation enforcement efforts; and
- Whether the companies have coordinated any actions or activities with other online platforms related to COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation.
The letters are available here: