Aug 6, 2020 - Technology

Ex-U.S. chief data scientist: Social media misinformation is "life or death"

Former U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil warned at an Axios virtual event Thursday that the "tremendous amount" of misinformation on social media platforms "creates public distrust at a time when we need it the most," stressing: "It's no small statement to say this is life or death."

What he's saying: "One of the areas that will likely, even if we get a vaccine, cause an issue is will people trust a vaccine? And if we don't address those misinformation issues right now, we are going to have a far extended impact of COVID," Patil, who is now head of technology at Devoted Health, told Axios' Kim Hart.

Driving the news: For the first time, Facebook removed a video post from President Trump on Wednesday in which he claimed that children are "almost immune" to COVID-19. But the platform, along with Twitter and others, still remains rife with misinformation about the pandemic.

  • "Previously, a lot of those conversations, we could try to take our time," Patil said about content moderation on big tech platforms. "Right now, we don't have time on our side."
  • "The platforms have a responsibility right now to figure out what is the right level of action. At a bare minimum it's creating stricter standards for how and what is allowed on their platforms."

The big picture: On the broader question of how technology can be improved to combat the coronavirus crisis, Patil stressed that "we need to stop focusing on the super sexy technologies like machine learning, and rather focus on the bare basics."

  • "We have forgotten that we have not invested in public health in nearly a decade," Patil noted. "The system is not designed to handle a pandemic. And by the way, this is not the last pandemic."
  • "We need to now invest in the infrastructure to ensure that we have the ability to keep taking advantage of the technology to get ahead of this curve that allows us to beat these viruses," Patil said.
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