Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena), the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, sent letters asking Sundar Pichai, Susan Wojcicki and Jack Dorsey, the Chief Executive Officers of Alphabet, YouTube and Twitter, respectively, to proactively inform users who engage with harmful coronavirus-related misinformation before it can be removed and to direct them to authoritative, medically accurate resources.
“Though the best protection is removing or downgrading harmful content before users engage with it, that is not always possible,” Rep. Schiff wrote in the letter. “Facebook recently announced plans to display messages to any users who have engaged with harmful coronavirus-related misinformation that has since been removed from the platform and connect them with resources from the World Health Organization. I urge you to adopt a similar practice for users and others who engage with harmful information on your platform.”
Youtube videos of President Donald Trump suggesting people inject disinfectant into their bodies are still on YouTube with no warning or advisory,
“Despite your best efforts, however, users will continue to see and engage with harmful medical content on your platforms, whether by intentionally seeking it out or otherwise,” Schiff wrote. “Among the harmful misinformation currently on YouTube, recent reporting has shown that it is easy to find videos spreading false and dangerous statements about the coronavirus or treatments, including conspiracy theories linking the virus to 5G towers, anti-vaccine messages suggesting the virus was engineered, and videos suggesting that drinking or consuming bleach may cure the disease.”
Earlier this month, Facebook announced that it would begin showing messages to users who had interacted with harmful misinformation about COVID-19 that has since been removed from the platform, connecting people with resources from the WHO debunking common myths. In addition, the letter highlights that Google and Twitter have joined Facebook and other major social media platforms in committing to jointly combat fraud and misinformation.
Despite important steps major Internet platforms have already taken to highlight official health sources and limit harmful medical misinformation, recent reporting has shown content spreading false and potentially dangerous statements about the coronavirus or treatments continues to be prevalent.
I recognize the complex challenges that misinformation presents to online platforms such as Google, in this and many other contexts. As we all grapple with this unprecedented health situation, I hope you will consider this suggestion for keeping users better informed. Thank you for your attention to my concerns, and I look forward to continuing our ongoing dialogue on these important issues.