US Targets YouTube, Facebook In Covid Misinformation Push

The US administration is reportedly targeting YouTube, and not only Facebook, as it seeks to stem the spread of misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines amidst renewed pandemic pressures.

Earlier this month Biden commented that Facebook was “killing people” due to Covid misinformation, but backtracked last week to put the focus on a dozen users held responsible for spreading two-thirds of the fabrications in question.

He told reporters he wanted Facebook to “do something about the misinformation, the outrageous misinformation about the vaccine”.

But the administration is also taking YouTube to task over the matter, with both Facebook and the Google-owned video-sharing site having “inconsistent enforcement”, an unnamed senior administration official told Reuters.

No oversight

Both sites are “the judge, the jury and the executioner” and have no oversight where it comes to dealing with Covid-19 misinformation, the official said.

Biden, his press secretary Jen Psaki and surgeon general Vivek Murthy have all said social media are helping to spread falsities that make it more difficult to control the pandemic.

A report from the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found 12 anti-vaccine accounts were spreading nearly two-thirds of vaccine misinformation online. Six of the accounts are still active on YouTube.

The official told Reuters the administration “would like to see more done by everybody” to stem Covid misinformation.

They said the administration has asked Facebook for data on how much vaccine misinformation exists on the platform, who is seeing it, what the company is doing to communicate with those people and how Facebook knows its steps are working.

‘Finger-pointing’

The answers the company has given are not “good enough”, the official said.

They said social media companies are not providing metrics to back up their claims of action and there is no way of verifying the firms’ statements.

The administration is concerned that social media firms are “either lying to us and hiding the ball, or they’re not taking it seriously and there isn’t a deep analysis of what’s going on in their platforms”, the official told Reuters.

Facebook said the company has removed more than 18 milion pieces of Covid misinformation since the start of the pandemic and that its data shows vaccine hesitancy has declined by 50 percent since January amongst Facebook’s US users.

In a separate blog post last week the company called on the administration to stop “finger-pointing”, also reiterating such remarks in media interviews.

Credible data

YouTube said that since March 2020 the company has removed more than 900,000 videos containing Covid-19 misinformation and terminated YouTube channels of people identified in the CCDH report.

“If any remaining channels mentioned in the report violate our policies, we will take action, including permanent terminations,” the company said.

YouTube has also said it is to add more credible health information and informational tabs for users.

The issue of misinformation, particularly around vaccines, has become a priority in recent weeks due to the added risk posed by the Delta variant amidst a considerable slowdown in the rate of vaccinations in the US.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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