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Dems Intro Bill to Require HHS to Define ‘What Constitutes Heath Misinformation,’ Hold Social Media Platforms Accountable

By Craig Bannister | July 23, 2021 | 3:40pm EDT
Pres. Joe Biden
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U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) have introduced a bill to “hold digital platforms accountable for the spread of health-related misinformation online during public health emergencies,” Klobuchar announced Thursday in a press statement.

Dubbed the ‘‘Health Misinformation Act of 2021,’’ the bill would treat social media platforms that permit “misinformation” as if they were the ones asserting the misinformation:

“Amend the Communications Act of 1934 to provide that, under certain circumstances, an interactive computer service provider that allows for the proliferation of health misinformation through that service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of that misinformation, and for other purposes.”

The bill also gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) 30 days to produce guidelines defining what speech is to be considered  “health misinformation”:

“GUIDANCE.—Not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the heads of other relevant Federal agencies and outside experts determined appropriate by the Secretary, shall issue guidance regarding what constitutes health misinformation for the purposes of subparagraph (B) of section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 230(c)(1)), as added by subsection (a) of this section.”

The bill specifically targets the use of algorithms by social media platforms to prioritize popular content, because this practice “rewards engagement rather than accuracy“:

“Algorithms often prioritize content based on the popularity of the content, or similarity to previously seen content, which means that a user exposed to information once could see more of that kind of information over time, furthering the effects of misinformation and disinformation.”

This isn’t Democrats’ first effort to legislate government-defined “truth” regarding health issues. As Sen. Klobuchar’s press release notes, in 2020, she helped introduce a bill to create a “COVID-19 Misinformation & Disinformation Task Force”:

“Last year, Klobuchar joined Peters and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) to introduce the COVID-19 Misinformation & Disinformation Task Force Act, which would create a COVID-19 Misinformation & Disinformation Task Force led by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA). The Task Force would consist of representatives from a variety of federal agencies and would be responsible for creating an awareness campaign to help inform the public of the risks of misinformation and disinformation related to the pandemic, including explanations of how foreign adversaries may use the pandemic to change American’s opinions or cause panic.“

Unlike last year’s bill, however, the Health Misinformation Act of 2021 doesn’t end with the COVID-19 pandemic – it goes into effect any time that the HHS secretary declares a public health emergency:

“COVERED PERIOD.—The term ‘covered period’ means a period during which a public health emergency declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 247d), including a renewal of any such declaration, is in effect.’’

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