Social media bill aims to prevent spread of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

Local News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Sacramento Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, has introduced a bill he says would prevent COVID-19 infections and deaths by reigning in misinformation being spread on social media platforms. 

Pan, who is also a physician, said computer algorithms used by social media companies are funneling people who have looked at health-related content to anti-vaccine sites at a time when vaccines are needed most.

“Approximately a quarter of Americans have reported they will refuse the vaccines. So we’re going to fall short of the 80 to 85% we need to control the coronavirus,” Pan said.

Pan has introduced a bill that would hold social media companies liable for false or misleading information directed to its users. 

“They should be held accountable for these decisions, especially if people are harmed or injured, or even killed,” he said.

People who support Pan’s bill say the anti-vaccine message is not just about opinion, they say there’s a profit motive behind it.

A detailed study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that purveyors of non-traditional health remedies have reason to sow doubt about vaccines. 

“They mainly operate so they can sell their own self cures, and our work is to expose the profiteering behind the anti-vaccine industry,” said CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed.

There are plenty of so-called “true believers” in the dangers and ineffectiveness of vaccines. But CCDH says a small number of people have a disproportionate influence. 

“Twelve individuals are responsible for 65% of all the shares of misinformation on vaccines online,” Ahmed tols FOX40. “So this tiny industry is enormous in scale.”

Facebook executives are hesitant to censor public opinion, but they have made much-publicized efforts to screen and remove false vaccine information put on their platform.

Pan said those efforts have been ineffective and quotes figures from Facebook itself. 

“Right-wing posts with misinformation spread much more rapidly on social media than right-wing posts without misinformation,” he explained. “So it’s not about ideology, it’s about the misinformation.”

He said traditional news media outlets are already liable for spreading false information and that the same rules should go for social media companies. 

Pan also expressed concern because people in the same study say those who are recommended to anti-vaccine content are also funneled to hate and racist content that results in violence, especially in the Asian American community. 

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