At the White House press briefing on Thursday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy discussed the advisory he issued today warning how health misinformation has prevented people from taking measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. Murthy also said that 10 of his family members died after contracting the coronavirus.
– Today, I issued a surgeon general’s advisory on the dangers of health misinformation. Surgeon general advisories are reserved for urgent public health threats. And while those threats have often been related to what we eat, drink, and smoke, today, we live in a world where misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health.
Health misinformation is false, inaccurate, or misleading information about health according to the best evidence of the time. And while it often appears innocuous on social media apps, on retail sites or search engines, the truth is that misinformation takes away our freedom to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our loved ones. During the COVID-19 pandemic, health misinformation has led people to resist wearing masks in high-risk settings. It’s led them to turn down proven treatments and to choose not to get vaccinated.
This has led to avoidable illnesses and death. Simply put, health information has cost us lives. Now, health misinformation didn’t start with COVID-19. What’s different now, though, is the speed and scale at which health misinformation is spreading. Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users.
They’ve allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation– what we call disinformation– to have extraordinary reach. They’ve designed product features such as like buttons that reward us for sharing emotionally charged content, not accurate content, and their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation.
On a personal note, it’s painful for me to know that nearly every death we are seeing now from COVID-19 could have been prevented. I say that as someone who has lost 10 family members to COVID-19 and who wishes each and every day that they had had the opportunity to get vaccinated. I say that also as a concerned father of two young children who aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine.
But I know that our kids are depending on all of us to get vaccinated to shield them from this virus. Every week, I talk to doctors and nurses across our country who are burning out as they care for more and more patients with COVID-19 who never got vaccinated, all too often because they were misled by misinformation. We must confront misinformation as a nation. Every one of us has the power and the responsibility to make a difference in this fight.