Musk has huge responsibility to fight health misinfo on Twitter, WHO says

Enlarge / Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk current a vaccine manufacturing machine throughout a gathering September 2, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Musk met with vaccine maker CureVac, with which Tesla has a cooperation to construct gadgets for producing RNA vaccines.

Elon Musk has a “huge responsibility” to fight harmful, doubtlessly life-threatening health misinformation on Twitter, the World Health Organization mentioned Tuesday.

The United Nation’s health company commented on Monday’s information that the tech billionaire has struck a deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion. WHO officers careworn how damaging misinformation and disinformation may very well be when it is extensively unfold in digital areas like Twitter.

“In cases like this pandemic, good information is life-saving,” Mike Ryan, govt director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, mentioned. “In some cases, [it’s] more life-saving than having a vaccine in the sense that bad information sends you to some very, very bad places.”

Katherine O’Brien, WHO’s Director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals, echoed the purpose. “This is not just a matter of chatting on social media channels,” O’Brien mentioned. “It really has an impact on what people do, what they thing to do what they thing to do for themselves, for their children, for their families. So, its something we take really seriously.”

Information struggle

WHO has lengthy fought the unfold of health misinformation and disinformation. In 2019, earlier than the devastating pandemic, the company listed vaccine hesitancyprimarily pushed by health misinformation and disinformation as one of many top 10 threats to people’s health. Amid the pandemic, WHO ramped up efforts to bust myths and fight the COVID-19 misinformation. It has described this period as affected by an “infodemic,” which it defines as “a tsunami of information,” together with false and deceptive info, that sows distrust, confusion, and risk-taking that in the end harms health and prolongs or intensifies illness outbreaks.

“Thanks to new technologies, we have been able to widely disseminate knowledge and evidence on [COVID-19],” WHO wrote in December 2020. “However, social media platforms have also been the carriers of falsehoods and distortions.”

A US-based ballot by the Kaiser Family Foundation in November 2021 discovered that 78 % of US adults mentioned they both believed or weren’t certain about at the least one among eight falsehoods concerning the pandemic or COVID-19 vaccines. And a KFF poll from January 2021 discovered that individuals who received their vaccine info from social media had been extra probably to be hesitant or towards getting vaccinated. Specifically, 37 to 40 % of adults who had been hesitant or towards getting a COVID-19 vaccine mentioned they received their vaccine info from social media. In comparability, solely 25 % of adults who had been enthusiastic had obtained vaccine info from social media. In that survey, Facebook was probably the most influential social media platform.

Twitter has struggled to fight health misinformation through the pandemic and will be sluggish to replace insurance policies. A report in May 2020 concluded that the platform failed to reign in “superspreaders” of health misinformation.

Twitter’s future

Twitter and different social media firms have tried to refine their insurance policies amid the pandemic. Some have partnered with WHO and different health companies to beat again misinformation. “Many of the platforms that exist today have worked very, very closely with WHO to try and improve the quality of information out there,” Ryan famous within the press convention Tuesday.

It’s unclear if Musk would contemplate partnering with WHO or different health companies as he takes the reins at Twitter. Musk has made controversial feedback on COVID-19, vaccines, and health measures amid the pandemic. That contains tweeting in March 2020 that “the coronavirus panic is dumb“and the falsehood that youngsters are”essentially immune” to COVID-19. However, he has since tweeted his support of vaccinesand publicly said that he and his youngsters are vaccinated.

In shopping for Twitter, Musk’s said objective of defending “free speech” and his definition of what that’s, have many Twitter customers fearing that he’ll open the floodgates of all styles of health misinformation, amongst different issues. Still, WHO seems to be hoping for the perfect whereas warning towards the worst-case state of affairs.

“When anyone reaches a position in life where they have so much potential influence over the way information is shared with communities, they take on a huge responsibility,” Ryan mentioned. “We wish Mr. Musk luck with his endeavors to improve the quality of information that we all receive.”

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