Wexton, Hirono Introduce Bill to Examine Spread of COVID-19 Misinformation and Disinformation
Washington, March 23, 2021
Washington, DC -- Today, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) and Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) introduced the COVID-19 Disinformation Research and Reporting Act to examine how the public response to COVID has been impacted by the spread of disinformation and misinformation, particularly via social media.
Over a year into the COVID pandemic, the spread of false information continues to jeopardize efforts to control this crisis. Particularly now with the mass administration of COVID vaccines, anti-vaccine campaigns -- including those spearheaded by foreign adversaries such as Russia -- are sowing lies and distrust about the vaccines and pose a serious challenge to getting enough Americans vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus.
"Misinformation and disinformation pose some of the greatest threats to the progress we're making to put the COVID pandemic behind us," said Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton. "As we continue to press forward with getting shots into the arms of every American, we also must fight back against the false information being shared that undermines the science and trust in the vaccines. The legislation that Senator Hirono and I are leading will tackle this threat head on by helping us better understand how and where false information about COVID is being spread and how we can best stop it."
“COVID-related misinformation spread by social media has resulted in more people getting sick and, sadly, more people dying from this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. It is critical we understand where this misinformation came from and how it spread, so we don’t see a repeat of this ‘infodemic’ in the future,” Senator Mazie K. Hirono said. “This is exactly what the COVID-19 Disinformation Research and Reporting Act will allow us to do. I am proud to have worked with Rep. Wexton on this important legislation.”
“Representative Wexton and Senator Hirono’s efforts to fight rampant misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic are laudable. This bill will facilitate much needed research into COVID-19 disinformation and develop science-based solutions to address the problem. COVID-19 disinformation can increase spread of the virus to communities across the world – especially communities of color, Indigenous communities, and low-income communities so I am thankful to Representative Wexton and Senator Hirono for taking on this life-or-death issue,” said Anita Desikan, Research Analyst at the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The legislation would examine the roles disinformation and misinformation have played in the public’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the public acceptance of vaccines, and the sources of COVID-19 disinformation and misinformation, including the mechanisms by which they influence public debate. The examination would also explore possible financial incentives from the spread of false information, the role of social media in promoting these narratives, and strategies to limit its negative impacts. The bill authorizes $1 million to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to partner with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (National Academies) to conduct the study.
Disinformation and misinformation has been rampant and dangerous during the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccine disinformation remains prolific online and on social media, despite platforms’ efforts to limit its spread, and experts fear it will continue to be a barrier to stopping the spread of COVID and moving past this crisis. The spread of false information during a public health emergency like this can erode trust in science, government officials, and public health experts and make it more difficult to get accurate information to vulnerable communities, particularly vaccine outreach efforts.
Wexton is the founder of the Congressional Task Force on Digital Citizenship, which was established in April 2020 to help better equip Americans, from toddlers to seniors, with the tools and resources they need to use technology and engage online responsibly in an increasingly digital world.
The legislation is supported by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In addition to Wexton and Hirono, the bill is cosponsored by Representatives Don Beyer (D-VA), Sean Casten (D-IL), Bill Foster (D-IL), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), and Lori Trahan (D-MA).
The full text of the bill can be found here.