On Thursday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy
issued a strong warning to the nation about the continued spread of COVID-19 misinformation
Murthy stated in his first advisory since being appointed by President Joe Biden
that the United States
had come a long way in its fight against the pandemic
, but that disinformation
campaigns remained the nation's biggest challenge
beyond the coronavirus
He also chastised technology companies for failing to control anti-vaccination
posts, which he described as an "imminent and insidious threat to our nation's health."
“Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment
with little accountability to their users,” Murthy said at the White House
on Thursday. “They’ve designed product features, such as ‘Like’ buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally charged content, not accurate content, and their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, drawing us deeper afield.
So, the next time
you want to share a health-related article or video, check your sources and make sure the information is backed up by scientific experts. If you're not sure, don't share. #NotSharingIsCaring pic.twitter.com/rZUMYy7rpX — Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) July 15, 2021
Surgeon General advisories are typically reserved for immediate public health
threats, such as tobacco
, opioid addiction
, and suicide
. Murthy's latest warning comes amid an increase in COVID-19 cases across the United States, owing primarily to the spread of the virus's highly transmissible delta variant
Despite the fact that more than 160 million people
in the United States are now fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, regions with lower immunization rates are especially vulnerable to the delta strain, and vaccines
have proven to be effective at preventing the severe illness and death associated with COVID-19, despite the delta variant's high transmissibility.
Almost all coronavirus deaths
in the United States occur among unvaccinated people.
Murthy stated in the advisory that misinformation had hampered the country's effort to get Americans vaccinated. He revealed that he had lost ten family
members to COVID-19, and that it was painful to know that many of the recent deaths in the United States could have been prevented by vaccinations
“Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health,” Murthy stated in the advisory. “It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, harm people’s health, and undermine public health efforts. Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will necessitate a whole-of-society effort.”
Although major social media
platforms such as Facebook
and Twitter have taken steps to remove or reduce the spread of false COVID-19 claims, misinformation has persisted throughout the pandemic, both at home
The White House also expressed dissatisfaction with Facebook's efforts to weed
out major misinformation peddlers. Press secretary Jen Psaki
said there were about a dozen accounts responsible for the vast majority of anti-vaccine misinformation, and they were all still posting on the platform.
“Facebook has repeatedly demonstrated that they have the levers to promote quality information,” Psaki said at a press conference. “We’ve seen them effectively do this in their algorithm over low-quality information, and they’ve chosen not to use it in this case.”