Experts want Big Tech to stop the spread of COVID-19 misinformation

Experts want laws changed so that Facebook and Google are forced to help stop the spread of COVID-19 misinformation ahead of vaccine rollouts

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The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, along with a number of other healthcare organisations, are urging the Federal Government to push through new laws that will help combat COVID-19 misinformation ahead of the roll out of vaccines in Australia.

According to an open letter from Reset Australia and signed by the Doherty Institute, there are calls for new laws that will require social media giants like Facebook and Google to maintain a “live” list of the most viral COVID-19 material.

By doing so, healthcare organisations believe they will be better placed to identify and respond to the misinformation.

The letter comments: “A ‘Live List’ of the most popular Covid-related material being shared on social media can and should be generated – and updated in real time – by the major Big Tech platforms. Such a live list would help Australian medical experts identify and understand misinformation and to create community engagement responses.”

“As things stand, we are playing catch up with a misinformation machine that is two steps ahead of us. Australia’s Parliament should mandate transparency from the Big Tech platforms in the interest of public health and safety, and equip us with the data we need.”

“Supercharged conspiracy theories.”

Reset and the Docherty Institute hope to be able to put an end to conspiracy theories which are being supercharged on social media.

One example of those conspiracy theories is that 5G internet is spreading COVID-19. This gathered so much attention online that Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX: TLS) had to respond to it with facts.

Reset Australia’s Executive Director, commented: “Rampant misinformation on social media is hampering Australia’s COVID-19 efforts and may deter widespread take up of the future vaccine. Social media has supercharged conspiracy theories and misinformation, pushing some people into echo chambers where false information is all they see.”

Kim Sampson from the Immunisation Coalition echoed this sentiment, noting that the extent of the problem is hidden from view, which hampers public education efforts.

Sampson explained: “Campaigns that educate and inform the public are a key part of this mission but the level of misinformation out there creates a huge barrier. Understanding who is being targeted and what kind of lies they’re being fed would help us relieve community concerns and fears.”

Catherine Hughes, from the Immunisation Foundation of Australia, added: “Vaccine misinformation costs lives. I’ve spoken with heartbroken parents who chose not to vaccinate their children after being scared by online misinformation, only to have their children die or suffer serious consequences from a vaccine-preventable disease.”

“This misinformation flourishes on social media, where fear translates quickly into clicks and shares. It is vital COVID misinformation is able to be tracked, and not hidden, so experts have a chance at countering some of the most dangerous myths being perpetuated.”

Biotech giant CSL Limited (ASX: CSL) is currently manufacturing the AstraZeneca-Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine. It is expected to be rolled out, pending approval, in the coming months. Reset Australia will no doubt be hoping laws are changed before then.

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