E&C Leaders Demand Answers from Tech CEOs About Insufficient Progress to Curb COVID-19 Vaccine Disinformation
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 the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, and Google today as part of their investigation into the tech companies’ continued mishandling of COVID-19 disinformation.
Today’s letters from the five Committee leaders are in response to recent reports that COVID-19 vaccine disinformation continues to persist on their platforms following a joint subcommittee hearing in March. The requests also come one day after the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held a hearing on building COVID-19 vaccine confidence.
“The Committee has repeatedly raised concerns regarding the role your company plays in the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, including during our Committee hearing yesterday in which the effects of COVID-19 misinformation on vaccine confidence were discussed,” the five Committee leaders wrote in separate letters to the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google. “Earlier this year, during our March 25 hearing, Members referenced a report identifying 12 superspreaders of vaccine disinformation online. The report found that the ‘Disinformation Dozen’ was responsible for 65 percent of the publicly available anti-vaccine content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.”
Throughout the March hearing, and in Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s individual submissions to the Committee, each company referenced specific company policies against COVID-19 misinformation and actions taken by the companies to remove such content.
Despite these assurances, the Committee leaders pointed to a subsequent report issued in April that found that, in the month since the March hearing, the Disinformation Dozen have posted at least 105 pieces of content that violate platform service agreements for Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. This content generated up to 29 million potential impressions from the existing followers of these accounts. The report also found that of the 12 individuals, at least nine continue to have active accounts on Facebook and Instagram and ten have active accounts on Twitter.
The Committee leaders also pointed to a recent news report that indicates that while Google has taken action to remove some COVID-19 vaccine misinformation from its platform, YouTube, these actions have not been entirely effective. Videos containing disinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines created by at least one member of the Disinformation Dozen continue to be available on YouTube.
“Accordingly, the Committee requests a briefing from your company by June 10, 2021 regarding the actions it has taken to monitor and review the content posted by the Disinformation Dozen on its platforms, and whether such content violates the terms of service,” the Committee leaders wrote to Facebook. The Members made similar requests to Twitter and Google.
In addition, the Committee leaders demanded Facebook and Twitter address in the briefing the steps each has taken to remove the vaccine misinformation identified in the April report.
The letters are available here: