US surgeon warns health misinformation is “urgent threat”

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Published by the American general surgeon Dr. Vivek Murthy warning of the dangers posed by health misinformation, calling them an “urgent threat” that social media companies and technology platforms need to do more to address.

As New York Times , is a rather unusual step for the Office of the General Surgeon, who usually issues advice focused on specific health issues such as the opioid epidemic. In a press release, the surgeon general said that “health misinformation has already caused significant damage” and undermined vaccination efforts.

The advice includes a the steps that individuals, health organizations, researchers, and journalists can take to mitigate the spread of misinformation. What is especially important, he also calls social media companies, although he stops calling any platform by name. But the report reflects much of the criticism that platforms like Facebook and Twitter faced during the pandemic.

“The characteristics of the products built into the technology platforms have contributed to the spread of misinformation,” the report said. “For example, social media platforms encourage people to share content to get likes, comments and other positive engagement signals. These features help connect and inform people, but reward engagement rather than accuracy, allowing emotionally charged misinformation to spread beyond emotionally neutral content. “

The report also highlights the problem of algorithmic amplification, which can make it harder for companies like Facebook to prevent misinformation. .

“Algorithms that determine what users see online often favor content based on its popularity or similarity to previously seen content,” the report said. “As a result, the user exposed to misinformation was once able to see more and more over time, further reinforcing the misunderstanding. Some websites also combine different types of information, such as news, ads and user posts, into a single feed, which can confuse consumers about the basic source of any given content. “

The report also recommends that companies give priority to early detection of misinformation to “super-spreaders” and repeat offenders. ” . On Thursday, the White House press secretary he also referred to the same report, noting that many of these “super-spreads” are still active on Facebook.

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