(CNN)US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned Thursday health misinformation is “a serious threat to public health,” as administration officials grow increasingly concerned about misleading claims about coronavirus vaccines, leading to a confrontation with social media giant Facebook.
“I am urging all Americans to help slow the spread of health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” Murthy wrote in a 22-page advisory released Thursday. “Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. It 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 stark statement from the surgeon general comes as dangerous falsehoods about Covid-19 vaccines are swirling and as health experts warn of the Delta variant’s increasing spread among unvaccinated Americans. Nationwide vaccination rates are dropping, while in 46 states, the rates of new Covid cases this past week are at least 10% higher than the rates of new cases the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
At Thursday’s White House press briefing, Murthy blamed misinformation for the slowing pace of vaccinations.
“It’s one of several reasons why people are not getting vaccinated, but it’s a very important one, because what we know from polls … is that two-thirds of people who are not vaccinate either believe common myths about the Covid-19 vaccine or think some of those myths might be true,” Murthy said.
Asked whether he believed public figures and companies that are helping spread misinformation should be held accountable, Murthy suggested that everyone, but especially those with large platforms, shares accountability.
“All of us have to ask how we can be more accountable and responsible for the information that we share,” he said, adding that those with larger platforms “bear a greater responsibility to think about that.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki singled out Facebook as needing to do more to combat Covid-19 vaccine misinformation on its platform. Meetings between the Biden administration and Facebook in recent weeks have been “tense,” a source familiar with the conversations told CNN.
Psaki said Facebook in particular needs to move faster.
“Facebook needs to move more quickly to remove violative posts. Posts that will be within their policies’ removal often remain up for days. That’s too long. The information spreads too quickly,” she said at Thursday’s press briefing..
The source said Biden officials who had taken concerns about vaccine misinformation to Facebook had concluded that the company were either not “taking this very seriously, or they are hiding something,” due to what they view as Facebook’s unwillingness to tackle vaccine misinformation.
A Facebook spokesperson did not directly respond to the source’s characterization of the company’s efforts but told CNN that Facebook is working to tackle Covid-19
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