WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today urged the Trump Administration to launch a centralized federal website – “Coronavirus.gov” – to provide trusted information to the American people about the Coronavirus outbreak. In a letter addressed to Vice President Mike Pence, who has been appointed to lead the U.S. response to the epidemic, Peters argued that challenges finding clear, reliable information about the virus could contribute to its continued spread and undermine public health. Peters personally delivered the letter to the Vice President at a Coronavirus briefing for Senators in the Senate this afternoon.
“I have heard from public health and safety professionals in Michigan that the flood of mixed messaging and misinformation circulating about the Coronavirus has undermined the government’s ability to communicate effectively with the American people,” said Senator Peters. “That’s why I’m calling on the Trump Administration to launch Coronavirus.gov. A centralized website would allow the federal government to deliver timely, trusted, and much-needed guidance to public health officials, health care providers, and the public to better contain the spread of Coronavirus in Michigan and across the country.”
During global health crises, coordinated disinformation campaigns and even well-meaning but misleading information can spread quickly online. Since the initial Coronavirus outbreak in December, which has infected more than 90,000 individuals and caused at least 3,000 deaths worldwide, misinformation and disinformation about the virus has spread quickly. A State Department report found that “roughly 2 million tweets peddled conspiracy theories about the coronavirus over the three-week period when the outbreak began to spread outside China.” The centralized “Coronavirus.gov” will help ensure that Americans have one trusted place to turn when looking for the latest news, preparedness tips and other critical information that can help prevent the spread of the virus and protect the health and safety of Americans.
Text of the letter is copied below and available here:
March 3, 2020
The Honorable Mike Pence
Vice President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. Vice President:
As American citizens and communities across the country prepare for the threat of novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), I write to ask about the information the federal government is providing the American people. News reports, as well as the State Department, have documented significant online misinformation and disinformation that may mislead people about the best ways to protect themselves and their families. As the head of the Administration’s Coronavirus response, I urge you to launch a centralized federal website to provide trusted information to Americans about the virus and how they can best prepare.
On February 29, the Washington Post reported on an unreleased State Department report that found “[r]oughly 2 million tweets peddled conspiracy theories about the coronavirus over the three-week period when the outbreak began to spread outside China.” Such falsehoods included that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation created the virus or that it was the result of a bioweapon. In response to these disturbing trends, technology companies such as YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter have worked to direct people towards credible sources and remove dubious content – actions that have been supported by misinformation and disinformation experts.
The federal government has assembled a wide variety of resources for Americans to use to educate themselves on the virus and how to prevent its spread. Agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the Department of Labor have all produced fact sheets to answer questions relevant to their specific responsibilities and programs. This public health threat requires a whole of government response with reliable information accessible to all Americans.
I request that you launch a website – coronavirus.gov – to serve as a central hub of trusted information. I also ask that you redirect related domain names such as covid19.gov and covid2019.gov to this portal. This would allow Americans to find information on any aspect of the response – whether they own a small business, serve in our armed forces, work with children, are traveling internationally, or develop treatments in a lab. This effort would maximize public accessibility to trusted sources, combat the spread of misinformation and disinformation, strengthen coordination between agencies, and support our communities nationwide as we respond to the virus. I look forward to working with you and senior Administration officials on this matter going forward.