Rep. Bobby Rush sent a letter to the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter on Friday asking how they are combating "race-based targeting and harassment" as misinformation around the new coronavirus spreads online.
"I have been profoundly disappointed to see countless examples of misinformation and downright lies propagated on your platforms," the Illinois Democrat wrote. "Furthermore, much of this misinformation has also conveyed racist themes and language — literally adding insult to injury."
Rush pointed out one example of race-based misinformation about COVID-19 on Twitter from earlier in the day. The congressman tagged Twitter and CEO Jack Dorsey in a message commenting on a post that falsely claimed "Blacks are not getting Coronavirus!"
"[W]hat exactly are you doing about this type of blatant misinformation?" Rush said on Twitter. "By allowing these lies to spread, you are COMPLICIT in any harm that may be suffered by members of my community as a result."
The claim that COVID-19 doesn't affect people of color is not supported by evidence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website, "Diseases can make anyone sick regardless of their race or ethnicity." PolitiFact rated the claim that the pigment melanin makes people of color immune to the coronavirus as false. PolitiFact is a fact-checking partner of Facebook's and reviewed the claim after an article purporting it to be true was shared and flagged on the platform.
Rush said in the letter that race-based misinformation about the virus can have real repercussions.
"Such characterizations have led to race-based violence around the world and have attempted to lull certain racial groups into a dangerous, false sense of security regarding their susceptibility to this disease," Rush wrote.
COVID-19 is just the latest topic to become ripe for misinformation claims, whether intentional or not.
Facebook, Twitter and other tech companies have already taken proactive measures, like directing users to reliable sources of information on the virus, to combat misinformation and other harmful practices related to COVID-19 on their platforms. The companies were among a group of tech peers that participated in a meeting with the World Health Organization (WHO) to find a way to reduce the spread of misinformation online, CNBC previously reported. The companies also reportedly participated in a call with the White House this week to discuss similar topics.
Rush wants to know specifically what Facebook and Twitter are doing to prevent misinformation from spreading on their services, how they're discouraging race-based targeting and how they're making their platforms reliable places to serve accurate information.
Both companies acknowledged receiving the letter but didn't provide a comment.