The United States Surgeon General says that misinformation has hindered the COVID-19 vaccination process and that it is an “urgent threat.” The Surgeon General is advising social media platforms to crack down on the spread of COVID-19 misinformation.
“Surgeon general advisories are reserved for urgent public health threats,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, said during a White House briefing on Thursday. “And while those threats have often been related to what we eat, drink, and smoke, today, we live in a world where misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health.”
“While it often appears innocuous on social media apps on 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. Simply put, health information has cost us lives.”
“On a personal note, it’s painful for me to know that nearly every death we are seeing now from COVID-19 could have been prevented. I say that as someone who has lost 10 family members to COVID-19 and who wishes each and every day, that they had had the opportunity to get vaccinated,” the Surgeon General said.
Dr. Murthy believes it is a “moral and civic” duty for individuals and institutions to combat misinformation.
“Misinformation tends to flourish in environments of significant societal division, animosity, and distrust,” the advisory said. “Distrust of the health care system due to experiences with racism and other inequities may make it easier for misinformation to spread in some communities. Growing polarization, including in the political sphere, may also contribute to the spread of misinformation.”
The Surgeon General is calling on social media companies to do more to stop the spread of health misinformation.
“Health misinformation is an urgent threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, and undermine public health efforts, including our ongoing work to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Murthy said. “As Surgeon General, my job is to help people stay safe and healthy, and without limiting the spread of health misinformation, American lives are at risk… tackling this challenge will require an all-of-society approach, but it is critical for the long-term health of our nation.”
“We’ve got to recognize that sometimes the most trusted voices are not the ones that have the most followers on social media or the ones that have the most, you know, name recognition. Sometimes the most trusted sources are a mother or father, or a faith leader, or local doctor or nurse,” the doctor said. “And that’s why to reach people with accurate information, what we have to do is partner with those local trusted voices.”
In May, Instagram launched a global COVID-19 Information Center to help “connect people to more information about the pandemic from health authorities, directly on Instagram.” The social media company also features a sticker on users Stories that links directly to the information center.
“If posts on Instagram contain claims that violate our COVID-19 and vaccine policies, we remove them. For posts that have not been debunked by health experts, we apply informational labels about vaccines and COVID-19 generally. These labels direct people to more credible information from health experts, including the WHO and CDC. We are now evolving these labels to provide more context at the post level,” an Instagram blog post entitled, “Helping People Stay Safe And Informed About COVID-19 Vaccines,” reads.