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Schiff asks Google, Twitter to follow Facebook's example in fighting COVID-19 misinformation

US Rep. Adam Schiff likes that Facebook is directing users to info from the WHO. Twitter and Google should do something similar, he says.

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Image by Pixabay; illustration by CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

US Rep. Adam Schiff has a message for Google and Twitter: It's time to take a tip from Facebook.

Specifically, the California Democrat and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee sent letters this week to Google, Twitter and YouTube requesting that they do more to counter harmful misinformation related to the the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Each platform has grappled with the circulation of misleading or outright fake content surrounding the coronavirus.

"Facebook recently announced plans to display messages to any users who have engaged with harmful coronavirus-related misinformation that has since been removed from the platform and connect them with resources from the World Health Organization," Schiff wrote in letters directed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, YouTube chief Susan Wojcicki and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. "I urge you to adopt a similar practice for users and others who engage with harmful information on your platform."

Schiff, who's previously criticized Google, Twitter and Facebook for being unprepared to combat misinformation, goes on to note that these are difficult waters to navigate for platforms that strive for open expression.

"I recognize the complex challenges that misinformation presents to online platforms," Schiff writes. "As we all grapple with this unprecedented health situation, I hope you will consider this suggestion for keeping users better informed."

The letters mark a rare moment of praise for Facebook from Congress, which has had a skeptical relationship with the platform since the Cambridge Analytica scandal put it at the center of immense controversy following the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook declined to comment on the letters. Google didn't responded to a request for comment, though a spokesperson for Google-owned YouTube says the platform has invested heavily in recent years in removing content that violates its policies and in boosting authoritative content.

"Since early February, we've removed thousands of videos violating our COVID-19 misinformation policies -- such as content that disputes the existence or transmission of COVID-19 as described by local health authorities, or that promotes medically unsubstantiated methods to prevent or cure COVID-19 in place of seeking medical treatment -- and have seen over 20 billion impressions on our information panels for COVID-19 related videos and searches," the spokesperson said. "Our work is ongoing and we're committed to providing timely and helpful information during this critical time."

Wojcicki on Friday also tweeted a response to Schiff, saying YouTube is working "every day to protect people from misinformation and help them find authoritative information."

A spokesperson for Twitter said the company had received the letter and is "in regular contact with their staff on these and a number of issues."

In recent weeks, Twitter has been actively working to remove misinformation that could speed the spread of the coronavirus. Google, meanwhile, pledged $6.5 million toward the fight against misinformation.

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