Three participants described the phone-and-video conversation on the condition of anonymity because the session was private. Most tech companies in attendance either did not respond or declined to comment.
“Cutting edge technology companies and major online platforms will play a critical role in this all-hands-on-deck effort,” Michael Kratsios, the White House’s chief technology officer, said in a statement. “Today’s meeting outlined an initial path forward and we intend to continue this important conversation.”
During the session, which participants described as a collegial brainstorm, White House officials urged the tech industry to coordinate its efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus conspiracy theories on major social media sites, urging the companies to swap intelligence about harmful hoaxes before they go viral, the three participants said.
The Trump administration did not single out any company or fault the industry for its practices. But its requests for better coordination came weeks after an unpublished State Department report found millions of tweets peddled falsehoods about the deadly outbreak abroad. The Washington Post first reported on the document last month.
“With a critical mass of expert organizations, official government accounts, health professionals, and epidemiologists on Twitter, our goal is to elevate and amplify authoritative health information on our service,” Twitter spokesman Trenton Kennedy said in a statement.
Top White House aides — led by Kratsios — also signaled the government would soon make available more research about the coronavirus, which he encouraged tech companies to analyze, according to the three participants. The hope, U.S. officials said, is that Silicon Valley might be able to deploy its engineers — and tap its powerful systems for crunching and analyzing data — to better understand the virus.
The U.S. government’s efforts to enlist Silicon Valley’s aid came in a week when White House officials similarly consulted with pharmaceutical giants, health-care providers, airline executives and Wall Street leaders in an attempt to battle back a fast-spreading virus that has afflicted more than 100,000 globally. The novel coronavirus has erased economic gains, canceled major events and sent students and workers home around the country.
The effects have been felt acutely in the tech-heavy San Francisco Bay area, near an epicenter of the outbreak on the West Coast. On Tuesday, for example, Google told its employees to work from home, an announcement that came with a pledge that the tech giant would provide financial help to cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others who provide services to the company but aren’t on its payroll.
Some tech giants already have explored ways to put their sky-high profits and powerful technologies to use in helping global health authorities battle a virus that the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on Wednesday.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, for example, has said in recent weeks the company has tried to supply anonymous data to researchers tracking the coronavirus. His personal nonprofit, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, also has funded efforts to sequence the virus’s genome and improve testing at a moment when patients are struggling to obtain diagnoses.
IBM supercomputers have aided government scientists studying potential drug compounds that can combat the coronavirus, the company has said. Others, including Microsoft and Amazon, are behind multimillion-dollar relief funds in their home state of Washington, which has been hit hardest domestically. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)
In the meeting Wednesday with the White House, some tech companies sought to tout their efforts and offer further support: Amazon, for example, said its cloud-computing tools could help federal authorities in complicated tasks such as tracking travelers, one of the participants said. And a major trade group for the tech sector, the Information Technology Industry Council, said it would help assemble digital resources for schools and teachers trying to instruct students online from afar, two participants told The Post.
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