Wexton Report to Study COVID-19 Disinformation and Misinformation Included in Heroes Act
Washington, May 15, 2020
Washington, DC -- Today, the House will vote on the Heroes Act, sweeping COVID-19 relief legislation which includes a provision led by Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) directing a scientific study of the spread of COVID-19 related disinformation and misinformation online and on social media.
"False information, whether it’s spread willfully by bad actors or unknowingly by well-meaning friends and family, can have devastating consequences,” said Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton. “In the midst of a crisis like COVID-19, disinformation and misinformation become even more deadly. We are tasking the brightest scientific minds to study the very real threat this growing trend poses to public health. Independent, objective scientific analysis will better inform policymakers so that we can tackle this challenge in a bipartisan way."
The Heroes Act includes an allocation of $1 million for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to partner with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (National Academies) to conduct a study on the spread of COVID-19 disinformation and misinformation on the internet and social media. The study will address the sources of disinformation, potential financial incentives of spreading that disinformation, the role of social media in disseminating and promoting false information, and possible strategies to mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 disinformation.
Disinformation and misinformation can be particularly dangerous during public health emergencies like COVID-19. The internet and social media have made it easier to spread fake medical information such as unproven treatments for COVID-19. Some groups have taken advantage of misinformation to promote distrust and false narratives about the efforts to develop a safe vaccine. False narratives about the origins of the virus are also being promoted by malicious conspiracy theorists, including sources backed by foreign governments, and have been spread widely online.
Last month, Congresswoman Wexton launched the Congressional Task Force on Digital Citizenship to better equip Americans with tools and resources to use technology and engage online responsibly -- including identifying disinformation and misinformation. Wexton also hosted a public virtual roundtable on digital citizenship during COVID-19, discussing ways to stay safe and healthy online as more Americans spend more time at home and on their devices.
As a member of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Wexton has prioritized legislative efforts to protect Americans from disinformation online. Congresswoman Wexton introduced legislation to incentivize new research into technology that would detect deepfakes and authored an amendment to help improve the public’s understanding and detection of deepfakes.
The text of the provision in the Heroes Act to authorize the study can be found here.