Vivek Murthy: Lost 10 relatives to Covid, must stop the poison online


Surgeon General Vivek Murthy tore into dominant technology companies for enabling Covid-19 misinformation and urged them to redesign their recommendation algorithms and construct built-in “frictions” to slow the spread of “poison” on online social platforms.

Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users,” Dr Murthy said at a White House briefing on Thursday. “We are asking them to step up, we can’t wait longer for them to take aggressive action.”

Murthy on Thursday released a 22-page advisory highlighting a string of false claims that have driven people away from vaccines at a time when the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations has slowed throughout the US.

Murthy’s advisory lists recommendations across eight stakeholder groups. It calls on teachers to focus on media literacy, it asks journalists to debunk health misinformation without spreading it further. The surgeon general asks doctors to “listen with empathy, and when possible, correct misinformation in personalized ways.”

Misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health,” Murthy said. “We must confront misinformation as a nation. Lives are depending on it.”

Striking a personal note, Murthy said he was “concerned” as a father of two young children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Murthy said he had lost 10 family members to Covid-19 and wishes “each and every day” that they had had the opportunity to get vaccinated.

Murthy called for a national effort across tech companies, healthcare workers, journalists and everyday Americans to do more to address an “urgent threat” to public health.

The US has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and yet, new Covid-19 infections have doubled over the past two weeks.

CNN reported on Thursday that cases are rising in 47 states.

Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the US, reported its fifth straight day this week of more than 1,000 new cases.

The US continues to have the world’s highest Covid-19 toll. The virus has killed more than 608,000 in this country alone since it first arrived on the West Coast in January 2020.