Schiff demands Google, YouTube, Twitter alert users to coronavirus misinformation to prevent spread

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Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., sent a letter to the leaders of several tech companies Wednesday urging them to help combat the spread of misinformation in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

In letters to the CEOs of YouTube, Google and Twitter, Schiff asked that they inform users when they've encountered medical misinformation to prevent the spread of wild conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated advice. The letters were sent separately to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet Inc.; Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, and to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

"As we face this public health crisis, Americans want and need to receive the best information possible so that they can keep themselves, their families and their communities healthy," Schiff wrote in all three letters.

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He urged the tech giants to follow Facebook's lead and display messages and resources from the World Health Organization (WHO) when users come across "harmful coronavirus misinformation." Facebook announced earlier this month that it will reduce the distribution of information deemed "false" by its fact-checkers and will add warning labels to the content.

Twitter and Google have adjusted their algorithms to prioritize credible information sources.

The COVID-19 crisis has given rise to a range of conspiracy theories and dangerous, unverified information. Social media has been inundated with posts advising people to take various medications, including cleaning products, to prevent coronavirus infections.

In his letters, Schiff cited theories linking the virus to 5G towers, messages suggesting it was engineered and videos suggesting that drinking bleach could potentially serve as a cure.

A spokesperson for YouTube, which is owned by Google, said the company has removed thousands of videos since February that violate its COVID-19 misinformation policies, including content that disputes the existence of the virus or that promote unverified methods to cure or prevent it.

"Over the past few years, we’ve heavily invested in protecting the YouTube community from harmful content by quickly removing violative content, raising authoritative content and reducing the spread of harmful misinformation," the spokesperson said.

Some states have reported an uptick in poison control calls after President Trump appeared to suggest that disinfectants could possibly serve as a treatment for the virus during a White House press briefing.

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Schiff praised the tech CEOs for taking steps to address the problem but asked that they do more, such as directing users to sources with accurate information.

"Despite your best efforts, however, users will continue to see and engage with harmful medical content on your platforms, whether by intentionally seeking it out or otherwise," Schiff added.