Surgeon General Seeks Covid Misinformation Data From Big Tech

President Biden’s surgeon general on Thursday formally requested that the major tech platforms submit information about the scale of Covid-19 misinformation on social networks, search engines, crowdsourced platforms, e-commerce platforms and instant messaging systems.

A request for information from the surgeon general’s office demanded that tech platforms send data and analysis on the prevalence of Covid-19 misinformation on their sites, starting with common examples of vaccine misinformation documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The notice asks the companies to submit “exactly how many users saw or may have been exposed to instances of Covid-19 misinformation,” as well as aggregate data on demographics that may have been disproportionately exposed to or affected by the misinformation.

The surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, also demanded information from the platforms about the major sources of Covid-19 misinformation, including those that engaged in the sale of unproven Covid-19 products, services and treatments.

“Technology companies now have the opportunity to be open and transparent with the American people about the misinformation on their platforms,” Dr. Murthy said in an emailed statement. He added: “This is about protecting the nation’s health.”

Companies have until May 2 to submit the data. Denying requests for information does not carry a penalty, but the notice is the first formal request from the Biden administration of the tech companies to submit Covid-19 misinformation data, according to the surgeon general’s office.

Six months ago, Dr. Murthy used his first formal advisory to the United States to deliver a broadside against tech and social media companies, which he accused of not doing enough to stop the spread of dangerous health misinformation — especially about Covid-19. He called the misinformation “an urgent threat to public health.”

The request for information is part of President Biden’s Covid National Preparedness Plan, which the White House detailed on Wednesday and which is a road map for a new stage of the pandemic where Covid-19 causes “minimal disruption,” according to the White House. Mr. Biden first revealed details of the plan during his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

In addition to demanding misinformation data from the tech platforms, the surgeon general called on health care providers and the public to submit information about how Covid-19 misinformation has negatively influenced patients and communities.

“We’re asking anyone with relevant insights — from original research and data sets to personal stories that speak to the role of misinformation in public health — to share them with us,” Dr. Murthy said.

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