Chairman Clyburn’s Opening Remarks at Hearing on the Impact of Coronavirus Misinformation on Pandemic Response

Nov 17, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (November 17, 2021) - Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, delivered the following opening statement at today’s hybrid hearing examining the harm caused by the spread and monetization of coronavirus misinformation online and identifying next steps needed to stop the spread and promote the dissemination of accurate public health information.

On October 29, the Select Subcommittee launched an investigation into online entities that are spreading misinformation and facilitating access to disproven and potentially hazardous coronavirus treatments, such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. 

Opening Statement As Delivered

Since the pandemic began, Americans across the country have been targeted by an unprecedented level of misinformation about the coronavirus.  Bad actors have promoted false and even dangerous products as coronavirus treatments, and have pushed lies disputing the safety and effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines.

Coronavirus misinformation spreads wildly online, including on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  While large social media platforms have made efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus misinformation, they have not done enough.  Leading purveyors of false and misleading information continue to reach broad audiences.

By feeding the American public falsehoods about the virus, vaccines, and treatments, these bad actors make it harder to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate sources of health information—and harder to know how to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the coronavirus.

Overwhelming evidence shows that the most important thing Americans can do to protect themselves from serious illness and death from the coronavirus is to get vaccinated.  Yet 16 percent of Americans still say that they will not do so. 

Influenced by misinformation, some Americans have ingested dangerous substances or even delayed receiving evidence-based treatment after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. 

Those seeking to exploit the pandemic have even found ways to capitalize financially off misinformation, creating online marketplaces where they sell fake cures, fraudulent medical products, and phony documents to circumvent public health measures.   Recently, as more employers, schools, restaurants, and other businesses require proof of vaccination, sales of fraudulent coronavirus vaccination cards and vaccination exemptions have skyrocketed. 

The Select Subcommittee is actively investigating those who exploit the fears of the American public to push and even profit from selling unproven coronavirus treatments such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin—which the nation’s top public health agencies agree are ineffective against the coronavirus and can even cause harm. 

On October 29, our committee opened an investigation into two purveyors of misinformation that have reportedly conned Americans out of more than $6.7 million by facilitating thousands of prescriptions for disproven coronavirus treatments.

We must find ways to stop those who seek to profit by sowing doubt, spreading falsehoods, and exploiting fears amongst the American people.  By encouraging the use of bogus treatments, these groups, along with many others, have put American lives at risk and prolonged the pandemic.

To effectively curb the spread of the virus and safeguard American lives and wallets, we must curb the spread of misinformation.  Success in this fight will increase vaccine confidence and bolster support for evidence-based public health measures.  And it will protect Americans from being misled into spending their hard-earned money on products that are useless at best and harmful at worst.

The Biden-Harris Administration has taken positive steps toward these goals.  The Surgeon General is helping health professionals, faith leaders, teachers, and parents identify and respond to these lies.  The Administration also provided $140 million in funding through the American Rescue Plan to continue to support community-based organizations in building vaccine confidence across communities of color, rural areas, and low-income populations.

Addressing online coronavirus misinformation is a complex problem that requires the balancing of competing interests.  Government officials, social and traditional media companies, public health officials, and other stakeholders must work together to seek practical solutions.

But first, we must agree that online coronavirus misinformation is a dangerous problem that must be addressed.  I hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle can agree on that point and that we will all listen constructively to today’s witnesses on the nature of the misinformation challenge and how to tackle it effectively, efficiently, and equitably. 

I now yield to the Ranking Member for his opening statement.

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117th Congress