Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy Sees Polarization as a Public Health Issue


This makes it really tough, because if there’s a piece of inaccurate information online, and a friend has shared it with the best of intentions, but turns out it’s false, and then a public health authority, or your doctor, gives you a piece of advice that’s contradictory to that, you’re in a quandary. Who do I trust? Do I trust that public health authority or my doctor, or do I trust my friend who shared this with me? People are having to make many decisions like that each day, because they’re bombarded with so much information and they don’t always have the time or the resources to figure out what’s accurate, or to go to a source that’s really credible, or to sometimes even know what a credible source is.

To rebuild that trust, we have to start locally. I’ve been working very closely with local doctors, nurses, teachers, and other community leaders because they still have a great deal of trust with the people they serve in local communities. And when they go out and communicate with the public—whether it’s about the importance of getting tested for COVID, what symptoms people should look out for, or why people should get vaccinated—that does a lot to help people understand whatever the truth is.

When they hear that echoed by their state government, their local public health agency, by the CDC and other agencies, they start to see that we’re all talking with one voice and sharing scientific data. Even though trust has perhaps eroded in large institutions, people still do trust individuals who are around them. That’s why I think the role that those individuals now play in public health has actually become extraordinarily important, more so than even 10 years ago.

What would you like to see a company like Spotify do in the case of someone like Joe Rogan, who has a huge platform, reaching a reported 11 million people per episode, and is sometimes having guests on who offer up COVID misinformation?

I believe we all have a responsibility to do everything we can to reduce the spread of misinformation. We all have different abilities, different platforms. So if you are a parent and you have kids who listen to you, then you have a responsibility to help ensure that they have access to accurate information. If you’re a manager at an office and you’ve got people who listen to you and are looking to you for information about workplace health policies, you’ve got to make sure you give them information-designed policies that are based on solid scientific evidence.

Whether you have one million followers on social media, or you’ve got 10 followers, we all have platforms and people in our lives who trust us. That means we all have to be responsible about how we speak about science and about health, particularly when it comes to COVID. That’s at the heart of this. If you’re running a platform, whether it’s a Spotify or another social media platform, you’ve got to think about, how do I create a healthy information environment here? How do I create rules and a culture that promotes accurate information? How do I have honest conversations, even though they are with individuals who may be spreading misinformation?


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