The coronavirus saga is still ongoing, with all the extremely serious and deep problems that it brings, not only to people’s health, but also to people’s civil liberties, freedoms, jobs, and overall well-being.
Therefore, it might seem like the most logical thing to do at this point is invest time and money into learning how to end it and support people’s livelihoods – while social, media, and in general anthropological research into some side-effects of the crisis should perhaps take the back seat for right now?
Well, not everyone agrees – among them are these US legislators of Democratic persuasion. No doubt in the grip of a campaign that imposes a deadline to put the message out, and allowing that deadline to inform their priorities, they are proposing legislation to study not coronavirus – but coronavirus misinformation.
One million dollars will be spent and “brightest scientific minds” apparently pulled away from their scientific research in order to provide an assessment on how Facebook hoaxes and myths may or may not affect the course of an epidemic.
Specifically, if approved, this National Science Foundation-spearheaded project will put to work experts from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, who will be tasked with probing social media posts about COVID, and explaining how (dis)information manages to make its way on those platforms.
The COVID-19 Disinformation Research and Reporting Act also seeks to identify foreign enemies and their domestic helpers in spreading information labeled as false – a phenomenon referred to in the bill as “an infodemic.”
We obtained a copy of the bill for you here.
The bill was proposed by Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., and four Democratic co-sponsors in the House and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and five Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate.
Some might dismiss this as just more campaign fodder to reinforce a particular narrative, especially since the tone of the draft makes it difficult to discern whether its Democrat authors and sponsors think it’s this “infodemic” – or the actual pandemic, that’s killing people.
That’s because the wording seeks to link the two inextricably, although the attempt, i.e., the bill, looks to be spreading itself a little too thin as it tries to cover all the talking points in one go: social media networks (still?) not doing enough to moderate and censor, false information somehow seeping through everywhere, foreign conspiracies (to achieve what?), local traitors (to help them in “that”) – etc, etc.