The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene set up a “Misinformation Response Unit” to monitor what it would determine to be “dangerous misinformation” posted on social media, non-US sites, and non-English media in the US.
This “misinformation” mostly had to do with Covid vaccination – the Department was determined to drive vaccination rates up by spreading its word, and in this gathered over 100 partners whose job was to craft positive messaging around the controversial subject.
Among those the dedicated new unit is working with is Public Good Projects, otherwise known for receiving funding from a lobbying group representing two major Covid vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna.
Their “good” work here also included sending Twitter, on a weekly basis, lists of posts slated for censorship.
In an article published by the NEJM Catalyst journal, those behind the effort are now assessing the Unit’s work as successful, what with it being able to “rapidly identify messages” deemed as containing inaccurate information about the virus, vaccines, treatment, etc.
And although admitting that “vaccine hesitancy” remains high around the world even two years after the vaccines were first introduced – and this is something attributed to “disinformation and misinformation” and continues to worry the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Surgeon General, as well as “medical experts” – the New York City Health Department thinks that it did well in getting its own narrative out, particularly in traditional media.
However, it needed help on the internet and so, in 2021, the NYC Health Commissioner penned a letter to the largest social networks asking them to engage in “broader efforts to curtail deliberate disinformation, particularly from the most notorious spreaders of disinformation and from non-English language sources.”
We obtained a copy of the letter for you here.
This is also where the Public Good Projects came in, to enlist social media “microinfluencers” to spread pro-vaccine messages, and train others to come up with campaigns.
The email Dave A. Chokshi, New York City health commissioner, addressed to then Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, with the subject line reading, “Vaccine Misinformation,” urges the pair to “take immediate action to stop the spread of fraudulent and inaccurate information about COVID-19 vaccines” on their platforms.
Chokshi wanted this action to be “effective and vigorous” and asserted that misinformation on these sites, as understood by the city’s Health Department, was “costing New Yorkers their lives.”
Twitter and Facebook were then urged to do the following: “Consistently and promptly remove all misinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccines from your platforms and ban any user that repeatedly posts misinformation, including the Dirty Dozen; redesign the algorithms used by your platforms to avoid amplifying misinformation, particularly among non-English languages; provide greater transparency to your data to allow health departments to better identify, track and understand the spread of misinformation, and amplify messaging from trusted public health experts and local partners.”