Blue Dogs Call on Trump Administration to Combat COVID-19 Disinformation

Mar 19, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON—Today, the Blue Dog Coalition sent a letter to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence calling for the Administration to take immediate action to combat the surging level of disinformation on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Specifically, the Blue Dog Coalition urged the Administration to do the following: launch a fact-based, nonpartisan public service announcement campaign; require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to update data on the pandemic at least twice per day, seven days a week; and consider measures to hold social media companies accountable should those companies allow disinformation to run rampant on their platforms.


In a February 2020 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the COVID-19 pandemic and its response  “has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic,’ an over-abundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” Recent press reports have revealed that Russia is waging a disinformation campaign about the COVID-19 pandemic in order to sow fear and panic in the West.


The Co-Chairs of the Blue Dog Task Force on National Security, Reps. Max Rose (NY-11) and Kendra Horn (OK-05), were the lead authors. The letter was signed by all members of Blue Dog Coalition leadership, Reps. Stephanie Murphy (FL-07), Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01), Lou Correa (CA-46), Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), and Kurt Schrader (OR-05). Additionally, the following members signed the letter: Rep. Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Rep. Ed Case (HI-01) Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16), Rep. Charlie Crist (FL-13), Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Rep. Ben McAdams (UT-04), Rep. Brad Schneider (IL-10), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02).


See below for the full text:


Dear Mr. President and Mr. Vice President:


We write to express our concern about the significant level of disinformation spreading across the country regarding coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). We believe the federal government must take strong and immediate steps to combat this problem. 


First, the Administration should launch a public service announcement campaign to disseminate critical information on COVID-19 to all Americans. These announcements should be based on the best scientific information and should provide the public with information on how to minimize the risk of acquiring the illness, what steps to take if you suspect you have been exposed, and how to go about seeking medical treatment if you feel sick. In times of crisis, the federal government has a long history of launching public service announcement campaigns in partnership with nonprofit organizations, such as the Ad Council. For example, during World War II, the federal government launched several ad campaigns to encourage Americans to register for the draft, buy war bonds, and call on Americans to work in factories to help produce necessary weapons and equipment to support our troops. 


Second, the data pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic should be updated at least twice per day, seven days a week on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website to ensure full transparency with the American people. Public trust in our institutions is crucial, and the public is looking to our institutions for clear information right now.


Third, Congress and the Administration should further consider measures to hold social media companies accountable if they allow disinformation to run rampant on their platforms. Disinformation on COVID-19 not only sows confusion and discord, it can also cost human lives. This is not a partisan issue—it is a national security issue. Social media companies have a public responsibility to ensure that fact-based announcements from public officials are easily disseminated, while misinformation is immediately flagged and removed.


In this pivotal moment, Americans are uniquely dependent on their leaders to do the right thing and save lives. We urge you to launch a unified, nonpartisan call to action, to ensure Americans have the latest data available online, and to prevent disinformation from spreading online. Should the federal government need additional funds to take any of these steps, Congress should stand ready to assist.