September 28, 2020

Hirono, Wexton Introduce Legislation to Examine Spread of Coronavirus Misinformation, Disinformation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) introduced the COVID-19 Disinformation Research and Reporting Act, legislation directing a study of the “infodemic” of COVID-19-related disinformation and misinformation that has impacted the effectiveness of the response to this pandemic. In the first three months of this year alone, disinformation and misinformation about COVID-19 sent an estimated 5,800 people to the hospital and cost at least 800 lives. The study will examine the sources of such disinformation and misinformation, social media’s role in boosting its spread, and explore potential financial incentives driving the spread of misinformation and disinformation. The study would also include strategies to limit the negative impacts in the future. The bill authorizes $1 million to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (National Academies) to conduct the study.  

"More than 200,000 Americans have died as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. As we work to curb infections across the country, we also face an infodemic caused by the viral spread of false information on the internet—particularly on social media. The COVID-19 Disinformation Research and Reporting Act will help our country get to the bottom of where coronavirus disinformation came from, how it spread, and how to mitigate the impact of COVID-related misinformation and disinformation going forward,” Senator Hirono said.

"Misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 is rampant and undermines the tireless work being done by our public health officials, doctors, and scientists to keep our communities safe and healthy,” Congresswoman Wexton said. “False information, spread willfully or not, can be deadly in a public health crisis like this. With this legislation, Senator Hirono and I are tasking the brightest scientific minds to examine this threat and provide lawmakers with the objective analysis we need to confront it." 

The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Representatives Don Beyer (D-Va.), Sean Casten (D-Ill.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

The COVID-19 Disinformation Research and Reporting Act is endorsed by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Senator Hirono has repeatedly called on social media platforms and domain name registrars to better respond to coronavirus-related misinformation and disinformation. In April, Senator Hirono wrote to Facebook asking that the platform shut down coronavirus misinformation on WhatsApp, and also called for eight domain name registrars and hosting sites to combat scams and misinformation related to the coronavirus.