Health Misinformation Part 1 – The Role of the Biden Administration and its Surgeon General

After this announcement from Health and Human Services in mid-July 2021:

…and the Surgeon General Vivek Murthy made this announcement:

….the Surgeon General released this advisory:

…which, in large part, points the finger at social media for its collaboration in spreading health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Since the Surgeon General is appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate, his views are representative of the Biden Administration's viewpoint on key issues, in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic.  In this two-part posting, we'll look at the commentary regarding fake health information and how the Biden Administration wants to crush any dissenting views followed by a closer look at how one of the most widely-used social media platforms proposes to deal with the issue of medical misinformation.

Here is some of the background from the Surgeon General's advisory with my bolds throughout:

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been exposed to a great deal of information: news, public health guidance, fact sheets, infographics, research, opinions, rumors, myths, falsehoods, and more. The World Health Organization and the United Nations have characterized this unprecedented spread of information as an “infodemic”.

While information has helped people stay safe throughout the pandemic, it has at times led to confusion. For example, scientific knowledge about COVID-19 has evolved rapidly over the past year, sometimes leading to changes in public health recommendations. Updating assessments and recommendations based on new evidence is an essential part of the scientific process, and further changes are to be expected as we continue learning more about COVID-19.  But without sufficient communication that provides clarity and context, many people have had trouble figuring out what to believe, which sources to trust, and how to keep up with changing knowledge and guidance.

Amid all this information, many people have also been exposed to health misinformation: information that is false, inaccurate, or misleading according to the best available evidence at the time.  Misinformation has caused confusion and led people to decline COVID-19 vaccines, reject public health measures such as masking and physical distancing, and use unproven treatments.  For example, a recent study showed that even brief exposure to COVID-19 vaccine misinformation made people less likely to want a COVID-19 vaccine.  Misinformation has also led to harassment of and violence against public health workers, health professionals, airline staff, and other frontline workers tasked with communicating evolving public health measures."

Certainly, the science has evolved over the past 16 months, however, it is very, very clear that many of the "experts" being relied on by the government and mainstream media are not providing us with a balanced viewpoint of the pandemic and the vaccines being touted as the only solution to the problem. 

According to the Surgeon General, there have already been some steps taken to build a healthier information environment:

1.) Trusted community members, such as health professionals, faith leaders, and educators, have spoken directly to their communities to address COVID-19-related questions (e.g., in town halls, community meetings, via social and traditional media)

2.) Researchers have identified leading sources of COVID-19 misinformation, including misinformation “super-spreaders”

3.) Media organizations have devoted more resources to identify and debunk misinformation about COVID-19

4.) Some technology platforms have improved efforts to monitor and address misinformation by reducing the distribution of false or misleading posts and directing users to health information from credible sources

5.) Governments have increased their efforts to disseminate clear public health information in partnership with trusted messengers

It has become very clear that these "trusted" individuals are generally disseminating only one side of the pandemic narrative.

He does note that there is much more to be done and that, most importantly, each of us has a role to play as follows:

1.) By taking a moment to verify whether the information that we are reading on social media is accurate and whether the source is trustworthy before we choose to share it with other people.  

2.) When talking to friends and family who have misperceptions, we can ask questions to understand their concerns, listen with empathy, and offer guidance on finding sources of accurate information.

He then suggests the following areas of action that need to be taken:

1.) Equip Americans with the tools to identify misinformation, make informed choices about what information they share, and address health misinformation in their communities, in partnership with trusted local leaders

2.) Expand research that deepens our understanding of health misinformation, including how it spreads and evolves; how and why it impacts people; who is most susceptible; and which strategies are most effective in addressing it

 3.) Implement product design and policy changes on technology platforms to slow the spread of misinformation

4.) Invest in longer-term efforts to build resilience against health misinformation, such as media, science, digital, data, and health literacy programs and training for health practitioners, journalists, librarians, and others

 5.) Convene federal, state, local, territorial, tribal, private, nonprofit, and research partners to explore the impact of health misinformation, identify best practices to prevent and address it, issue recommendations, and find common ground on difficult questions, including appropriate legal and regulatory measures that address health misinformation while protecting user privacy and freedom of expression

 Given that there is significant disagreement regarding the source of the "novel" coronavirus, the actual deadliness of the coronavirus (i.e. dying with or dying from) and the use of novel vaccines that may or may  not be safe because they were rushed to market in unprecedented haste and that researchers and medical professionals who do not share the prevailing and government-promoted narrative have been shutdown by social media platforms and threatened by their professional organizations and employers, I found this part interesting:

As well, given that the mainstream media has been complicit in promoting the narratives of Big Government and Big Pharma, this is also interesting:

The Surgeon General also lays a substantial share of the problem with medical disinformation at the feet of Big Tech:

….a viewpoint that is obviously shared with Joe Biden as shown here:

Let's look at the summary of the advisory noting that the Surgeon General's greatest concern is the link between health misinformation and COVID-19 vaccine reluctance:

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, health misinformation has sowed confusion, reduced trust in public health measures, and hindered efforts to get Americans vaccinated. And misinformation hasn’t just harmed our physical health—it has also divided our families, friends, and communities.

While health misinformation has always been a problem, today it spreads at unprecedented speed and scale. We are all still learning how to navigate this new information environment. But we know enough to be sure that misinformation is an urgent threat, and that we can and must confront it together.

The only way to address health misinformation is to recognize that all of us, in every sector of society, have a responsibility to act. Every single person can do their part to confront misinformation. But it’s not just an individual responsibility. We need institutions to recognize that this issue is their moral and civic responsibility, too, and that they are accountable."

From my perspective, one of the key problems with accessing accurate medical information during the pandemic has been the lack of transparency by governments and their officials who repeatedly change their minds about various aspects of the pandemic including this:

…and government leaders doing this while the rest of us are locked down:

…and social media companies banning anyone, no matter how qualified that they are, who provide a viewpoint that doesn't follow their limited pandemic narrative and then changing their minds once additional evidence comes to the forefront as shown here:

….and professional organizations who take actions against their members who have taken a stance that contradicts the stance on the pandemic of their professional organization:

….how on earth, as mere mortals, are we supposed to winnow the "medical truth" from the "medical misinformation" when even governments, health officials, medical researchers, other scientists and physicians can't agree on the COVID-19 narrative and are promoting their own version of medical misinformation which benefits them?  Following the money seems to be the mantra that we all need to keep in mind during the pandemic since each interest group is promoting the narrative that benefits its stakeholders.

In part two, we'll take a closer look at the proposal to battle the "scourge" of medical misinformation from one of the world's most influential social media platforms.

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