Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Ben Ray Luján had introduced a bill in the Senate called the “Health Misinformation5 Act of 2021” that looks to clamp down on some online speech by poking a hole in the much-debated Section 230 of the Communications Act. The bill would add an exception to the protections that platforms enjoy by making them responsible for “health misinformation” published on the service if that misinformation is promoted “through an algorithm used by the provider (or similar software functionality.” The proposed legislation does not include a definition of health misinformation, but instructs the secretary of Health and Human Services to “issue guidance regarding what constitutes health misinformation.”
The bill is certainly well-intentioned. And it’s not as if everyone hasn’t felt extreme frustration with the amount of misinformation and disinformation being spread both online and through traditional media. But it’s unclear how any such bill would be administered without creating huge levels of challenges. Still, the desire to deliver a swift butt kick—at a minimum—to those who are spreading information that is getting children killed isn’t hard to understand.
But as bad as the damage being done by social media and even Fox News may be, it can’t really top what’s being done by Republicans in Congress and at the state level.
On Thursday, Florida reported an astounding 12,647 new cases of COVID-19. That’s more cases than the entire country reported a month earlier. Even then, Florida was just one of four states that managed to top 50 cases per 100,000 residents in a single day; it’s joined in that dishonor by Arkansas, Louisiana, and (of course) Missouri.
What did Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promise as his state hit a level last seen in the first week of February? Here’s a hint: It wasn’t anything “conservative” in the sense that it was cautious or serious. “You got people like Fauci saying that you should be throwing masks on these three-year-old kids,” said DeSantis. “It’s totally unacceptable.” What will DeSantis do? Nothing, saying that it was just a seasonal thing. “We have a summer season here … so you’re going to have greater prevalence through the rest of July, maybe into August, and then it goes back down.”
Wait. Where have we heard this before? Oh … right.
“You know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April.” — TFG, Feb 10, 2020
Some 35 million cases later, DeSantis is still running with the idea that COVID-19 is a seasonal thing that will go away when the season gets cooler. Or hotter. Or something. All that counts is that the people of Florida have his absolute guarantee that he’s not going to do anything.
As the CBS station in Miami reported, when a group of doctors asked DeSantis to do something, to come up with some kind of plan, he had a swift response. “It’s easy for some physicians to advocate that because it doesn’t affect them,” said DeSantis. Because sure, doctors are completely unaffected by this pandemic. But don’t worry, DeSantis is still selling “Don’t Fauci my Florida” merchandise at his campaign site, along with items that complain that it’s impossible to drink a beer while wearing a mask.
A Health Misinformation Act that sanctions platforms for promoting false claims is one thing, but when state officials are out there not just pumping the airwaves full of nonsense, but waving off a surge in cases with the promise that eventually people will stop dying … it’s hard to see how anything helps.