Surgeon general launches effort to get to the bottom of Covid-19 misinformation

The request seeks to understand the scope and impact of misinformation on Covid-19 — especially when it comes to health care and people’s willingness to get vaccinated.

“Misinformation has had a profound impact on Covid-19 and our response,” Murthy told CNN. “Studies have demonstrated that the vast majority of the American public either believes common myths about Covid-19 or thinks those myths might be true. And many of those include myths around the Covid-19 vaccine, so we’ve seen firsthand how misinformation is harming people’s health when it comes to Covid.”

This marks the first time the administration has called on tech companies to share certain data publicly, including data on the major sources of misinformation, how widespread it is and who may have been targeted more than others.

The focus has been on reaching out to tech companies with the broadest reach and use, Murthy said, and he wants them to be more transparent and open about sharing data with the public.

“We’ll be looking forward to whatever information they have to share. We’re certainly approaching this with an open mind,” he said. “Many of the new technology platforms have also been talking about solutions that they are trying to implement, but what we want to understand is what data do they have on whether these solutions are actually working or not.”

He said the information will also help public health researchers who, for too long, have not been able to successfully gather data about the impact of health misinformation found on the platforms.

Stories about misinformation from health care workers, teachers and families are equally important, Murthy said.

“Health misinformation is making the jobs of health care workers much harder at a time where our health care work force is strained,” he said. “I hear from health care workers that they are battling Covid in the hospitals during the day, and they’re going home and battling health misinformation at night.”

Ultimately, the information will be shared with the public and used to steer responses to future public health emergencies.

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People will have until May 2 to submit responses.

The American Medical Association applauded the surgeon general’s effort to root out Covid-19 misinformation online.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and as recently as last week in my remarks at the National Press Club, the AMA has called out the junk science and misinformation about this virus that have proliferated on social media and sewn distrust in medicine, cost us lives, and driven families apart,” Dr. Gerald Harmon, the AMA president, said in a statement Thursday. “Collecting and understanding this data is critical to reversing its deadly impact and future spread.”

Murthy’s request follows an earlier advisory and community toolkit on misinformation, and it aligns with the new Covid-19 preparedness effort the White House announced Wednesday.

According to the request, “recent research shows that most Americans believe or are unsure of at least one COVID-19 vaccine falsehood.”

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