A week after Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared health misinformation a “Urgent threat” to the American public, Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico introduced new legislation that would amend Article 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to remove liability protections from tech companies if their platforms help disseminate disinformation during a health crisis.
If passed, the Health Misinformation Act of 2021 would create an exception to Section 230 that would see social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter “treated as the publisher or speaker of health misinformation” when their platforms amplify algorithmically misleading health content. What falls under the definition of health-related disinformation would be decided by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The exception would only apply in the event of a public health crisis, which the HMS secretary would have to declare beforehand.
To justify the change, the bill cites a joint report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch which found that 73% of the vaccine misinformation on Facebook can be traced back to a group of 12 people known as the “Dozen of Misinformation.” White House press secretary Jen psaki recently referred to that same report, claiming that many of these people are still active on the social network.
“For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans. They are some of the largest and wealthiest companies in the world and they must do more to prevent the spread of the disease. Deadly misinformation about vaccines, ”Senator Klobuchar said in a statement. “The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how deadly misinformation can be and it is our responsibility to take action. “
The introduction of the bill also follows a recent statement made by President Joe Biden. He said platforms like Facebook were “killing people” by failing to do more to stop misinformation related to vaccines and health. “We will not be distracted by accusations that are not supported by the facts,” a Facebook spokesperson told Engadget after Biden made his comments. “The facts show that Facebook helps save lives. Period.” The president then retracted his statement, noting that the people using the platform to spread their disinformation were the ones doing harm, but reiterated his belief that Facebook could do more to combat what was going on.
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