Screen shot from video produced by U.S. Surgeon-General's office.

Screen shot from video produced by U.S. Surgeon-General’s office.

( – Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is slamming the Biden administration for flagging what the White House calls “problematic posts” so social media companies can remove them.

The “misinformation,” a White House spokeswoman said, involves COVID vaccinations, which millions of Americans have so far refused.

“I think it’s really scary to have the federal government of the United States, the White House, compiling lists of people, organizations, whatever, and then going to a private company that, by the way, is a monopoly, Facebook, and saying: You need to censor. You need to do something about this. You need to tell these users, these private users on a private company what they can or cannot say,” Hawley told Fox News’s Bret Baier on Thursday.

“I mean, I just think that this kind of coordination between big government and a big monopoly corporation, boy, that is scary stuff. And it really is censorship.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday, “We are in regular touch with the social media platforms, and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff, but also members of our COVID-19 Team.

Psaki said “misinformation” about the pandemic is a “big issue,” so “we’ve increased disinformation research and tracking. Within the Surgeon General’s Office, we’re flagging posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.”

The goal, she said, is to “get trusted content out there.”

Hawley questioned how private the social media companies really are:

I mean, if you’re taking direction from the federal government, openly coordinating with the federal government, you have got the government saying, we think that this speech ought to be censored, and big tech, if they carry out those instructions, I mean, that looks like they’re starting to operate as a public utility.

And there are many people out there who say we ought to just treat them as public utilities. We ought to just regulate these private companies as such. My view is, we ought to break them up and restore competition.

But I have to tell you, Bret, their status as independent private companies looks more and more endangered here. They’re acting like arms of the government. And when they’re monopolies, that’s a big problem.

Psaki said the Biden administration has made four recommendations to social media companies:

One, that they measure and publicly share the impact of misinformation on their platform. Facebook should provide publicly and transparently data on the reach of COVID-19–COVID vaccine misinformation…and the audience that it’s reaching. That will help us ensure we’re getting accurate information to people. This should be provided not just to researchers, but to the public, so that the public knows and understands what is accurate/inaccurate.

Second, we have recommended, proposed, that they create a robust enforcement strategy that bridges their properties and provides transparency about the rules…There’s about 12 people who are producing 65 percent of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. All of them remain active on Facebook, despite some even being banned on other platforms, including …ones that Facebook owns.

Third, it’s important to take faster action against harmful posts. As you all know, information travels quite quickly on social media platforms. Sometimes it’s not accurate, and Facebook needs to move more quickly to remove harmful, violative posts. Posts that would be within their policies for removal often remain up for days. That’s too long. The information spreads too quickly.

Finally, we have proposed they promote quality information sources in their feed algorithm. Facebook has repeatedly shown that they have the leverage to promote quality information. We’ve seen them effectively do this in their algorithm over low-quality information, and they’ve chosen not to use it in this case. That’s certainly an area that would have an impact.

So, these are certainly the proposals. We engage with them regularly, and they certainly understand what our asks are.

‘Misinformation is a serious threat to public health’

The U.S. Surgeon General, meanwhile, has posted a document titled “Confronting Health Misinformation.”

“I am urging all Americans to help slow the spread of health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy says in the preface.

“Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. I can cause confusion, sow mistrust, harm people’s health, and undermine public health efforts. Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort.”

The 17-page document says:

“Before posting or sharing an item on social media, for example, we can take a moment to verify whether the information is accurate and whether the original source is trustworthy. If we’re not sure, we can choose not to share. 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.”

The document lists the following action items (notice number 3 below):

— 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.

— 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.

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

— 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.

— 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.

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