How Department of Health Gags Doctors on Social Media (Australia)

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How Department of Health Australia works closely with the social media platforms to block content such as “the vaccines are somehow harmful or that they don’t work”, or “suggestions that Covid-19 either does not exist or is not as severe” ~ From the Senate select committee on Covid in February 2022.

Speakers in Clip:

  1. Dept of Health: Ms Rachel Balmanno, First Assistant Secretary, People, Communication and Parliamentary Division, Department of Health [by video link]
  2. Senate: Former Senator Rex Patrick (S.A.)

Feb 2nd, 2022 | Twitter | Rumble | Telegram | Hansard | PDF

Senator PATRICK: Sure. I just thought you might have known something about that. [inaudible] some questions of PM&C, and they directed them for you, Dr Murphy. This goes to how you deal with misinformation. Could you give a bit of a description about what’s happening inside Health [inaudible] for disinformation and then how you might respond to disinformation when it comes from a member of the public or an MP or a senator or a doctor. How might you treat those situations?

Dr Skerritt : I’ll kick off, because we have a statutory role if inappropriate information is provided about a product. If a product is advertised and claims to do things that it can’t, we can take regulatory action, which ranges from a warning letter through to criminal or civil court action. If it’s a public figure, we will write to them. They are treated no differently from anyone else. There are certain issues where, if people are not promoting a product—if they’re saying, ‘Don’t get vaccinated’—ironically, it is not actually an offence under the Therapeutic Goods Act, because they’re not promoting a therapeutic product; they’re saying, ‘Don’t take a group of therapeutic products.’ There have been a number of people of high public profile who have made statements opposing vaccination, but that’s not a contravention of our act or indeed, in working with other regulators, any of their legislation.

We also have—again, relating to products—an education and communications function, which operates on everything from social media through to paid media, advising people on such things as: ‘Don’t buy a rapid antigen test off the internet or a COVID treatment off the internet. You don’t know what review it’s been through and whether it works and so forth.’ We’ve done media saying, for example, as I just said, ‘Don’t buy COVID tests in plastic bags.’ So our media has stimulated reporting of convenience stores and some pharmacies for doing the wrong thing, through the ACCC in that case.

Dr Murphy : Ms Balmanno is online and will address the general issue.

Ms Balmanno : Beyond the regulatory functions that Dr Skerritt mentioned, we obviously have quite a concerted effort to ensure that the community has access to the best available information about COVID, COVID treatments and COVID vaccination.

Part of that is certainly monitoring for misinformation and countering that misinformation.

We’re also taking action such as blocking certain commentators from our own channels, or recommending that other government agencies do that, and reporting various accounts to the social media platforms, who have worked with us very closely over the last few years to make sure that they’re quite responsive to reports of information [inaudible] against the standards that they each have set out for information on their platform.

So we’re very active in that and we liaise with other agencies to identify those sources.

The main topics of misinformation continue to be that vaccines are in some way harmful or that they don’t work; they are probably the headlines.

There is still also a reasonable thread of suggestion that COVID-19 does not exist or is not so virulent; they’re probably the main topics.

Senator PATRICK: How do you handle that? If a member of the public is doing it, you might shut down the platform by which they are communicating; if it’s an MP or if it’s a doctor—

Ms Balmanno : Regardless of who it is, if we’re concerned that they’re promoting information that we know not to be correct through our channels, we will shut that down.

We have a protocol—and it’s published on each of our channels—about our accepted standards, and it includes statements about misinformation. It explains what we’ll do.

So we would contact them and remove the specific comments initially and contact them and explain.

But, if there were repeated cases, we would actually block that person from our channels, and, similarly, we would report them to the platform if we were concerned about information that they were publishing through their own accounts, not through ours.

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Penny... on Health
Penny... on Health

Truth-seeker, ever-questioning, ever-learning, ever-researching, ever delving further and deeper, ever trying to 'figure it out'. This site is a legacy of sorts, a place to collect thoughts, notes, book summaries, & random points of interests.

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