Press Release Tech Policy in the Pandemic Platform Competition

Public Knowledge: We Need a ‘Superfund for the Internet’ to Fight Misinformation Online

May 11, 2020 , , , ,
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Today, we’re happy to announce the latest addition to our tracking report logging digital platform responses to misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic: a “superfund for the internet” proposal. Such a fund would compel digital platforms like Google and Facebook to invest in tools our society needs to fight misinformation online — tools that have been proven during the pandemic.

Public Knowledge has been tracking the efforts of digital platforms to counter mis- and dis-information about the novel coronavirus pandemic since early March. This tracking has involved careful analysis of hundreds of articles, abstracts, research, and opinion pieces about how platforms are responding to the pandemic. The report both catalogues platform responses and analyzes their various approaches, helping policymakers, media, and the public to better explore what platforms are doing to combat the rising “infodemic” — a dangerous onslaught of misunderstandings, inaccurate data, and lies about the coronavirus spread rapidly online. Public Knowledge will continue updating the report with commentary and analysis as the pandemic unfolds.

The following can be attributed to Lisa Macpherson, Senior Policy Fellow at Public Knowledge:

“Developing a ‘superfund for the internet’ would allow us to leverage what we’ve learned from the pandemic to clean up toxic misinformation. The consequences of misinformation can be particularly damaging during a pandemic, when the stakes are high and the spread of misinformation may be virulent and destructive. In the case of the novel coronavirus, misinformation has also become highly politicized, which makes how platforms are responding to it an appropriate model for how they should manage other types of misinformation. When we consider both the risk of harm and their pervasive reach, speed, and power, it’s clear that we need to compel the big technology companies to help the public navigate misinformation online, not depend on their good will to identify, analyze, and remove harmful misinformation from their platforms. 

“In our tracking, we’ve noted that virtually all the platforms’ efforts to counter misinformation have leveraged partnerships with other organizations, whose authoritative content and information analysis has enabled them to check sources, rank content, direct people to debunking sites, and understand what kinds of misinformation may create the greatest harm. 

“That’s the basis of a ‘superfund for the internet’: a market in which digital platforms pay journalistic organizations to supply information cleansing services. Under our proposal, technology companies would be required to pay for these services, at a fair price, to help clean up the toxic junk on their platforms. It’s an exchange of real value that would preclude any assumption, expectation, or threat of editorial influence. The proposal also provides a new revenue stream to local journalistic organizations and information analysts who also help protect our public and democratic institutions.

“We shouldn’t expect — or allow — the platforms to go ‘back to normal’ when this crisis is over. As the whole world has gone online to help contain the virus, the platforms’ power has only grown, and with it, their responsibility and accountability to the public. We need both a policy framework and specialized regulatory authority to limit their anti-competitive behaviors, protect Americans’ privacy, and to stop or slow the spread of misinformation. A ‘superfund for the internet,’ which also fosters reputable journalism, is a bold next step.”

You may view our latest blog post, “The Pandemic Proves We Need A ‘Superfund’ to Clean Up Misinformation on the Internet,” for more information on the proposal. You may view the tracking report here.