President Joe Biden tempered his assessment that social media giants “kill people” by letting misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines on their platforms, saying Monday he hoped they wouldn’t take it “personally” and instead they act to save lives.
While companies like Facebook defend their practices and say they help people around the world access verified information about the blows, the White House says they haven’t done enough to stop the disinformation that has helped slowing the pace of new vaccinations in the United States by a thread. It comes when the United States sees an increase in cases of viruses and deaths among those who have not had a stroke, in what officials call an emerging “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Speaking at the White House, Biden insisted he meant “exactly what I said” when he said Friday about the technical giants that “they’re killing people.” But he said the point of his rhetoric was to increase the pressure on companies to act.
“My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally that I would somehow say‘ Facebook kills people, ’would do something for misinformation,” Biden said.
Biden’s comments came when the White House struggled to counter resistance to getting a hit, particularly in younger and more Republican demographics. Less than 400,000 Americans receive their first dose of vaccination each day – down from a maximum of more than 2 million as of April. More than 90 million eligible people have not received a dose.
The administration has taken more and more false or misleading information about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines as a driver of that hesitation. He reported a study by the Center for the Control of Digital Hate, a non-profit organization that studies extremism, which linked a dozen accounts to the spread of most vaccine disinformation on Facebook .
“Facebook doesn’t kill people. These 12 people are out there giving misinformation, anyone who listens to it is hurt by it, it’s killing people,” Biden said. “It’s bad information.”
“I don’t try to hold people accountable. I try to make people look, look in the mirror,” Biden said, adding, “Think of that misinformation that goes to your son, your daughter, your parent. “.
In the administration’s view, punishing social media companies – which have been under increasing scrutiny in Washington for not only misinformation, but also antitrust and privacy practices – is a proxy for criticizing the very originators of misinformation. To avoid amplifying the falsehoods, the White House has generally sought to avoid engaging directly with those who spread misinformation.
Last week, U.S. general surgeon Vivek Murthy said misinformation about vaccines is a fatal threat to public health.
“Misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to the health of our nation,” Murthy said during statements Thursday to the White House. “We have to confront disinformation as a nation. Life depends on it.”
Murthy said technology companies and social media platforms need to make significant changes to their products and software to reduce the spread of false information while increasing access to authoritative, fact-based sources.
Too often, he said, platforms are built in ways that encourage the spread of disinformation.
“We asked them to intensify,” Murthy said. “We can’t wait any longer for them to take aggressive action.”
Facebook on Friday responded to Biden’s attack, with spokesman Kevin McAlister saying, “Facts show that Facebook helps save lives. Period.”
The company also published a blog post as its internal research showed it was not responsible for Biden’s missed vaccination goal. “The data show that 85% of Facebook users in the United States have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19. President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by 4 p.m. July. Facebook is not the reason why this goal has been missed. “
Brendan Nyhan, a government professor at Dartmouth College who focuses on politics and health care, said Facebook “should absolutely be held accountable for allowing it to spread vaccine misinformation.”
“With that said, we need to be careful to assume that the circulation of misinformation online is a cause for hesitation rather than a consequence,” he added.
“It’s very difficult to show the relationship between misinformation on social media and vaccination hesitation directly. We don’t have good measures of what people see on social media or any ability to link it to their vaccination behavior. And even if we see correlations in the data, these could be false rather than causal – people who do not get vaccinated are presumably more likely to be exposed to negative and false information about the vaccine ”.
That said, Nyhan added that there is some evidence that exposure to disinformation can reduce a person’s intention to vaccinate immediately after seeing the disinformation.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki insisted Monday: “We are not at war or in battle against Facebook – we are fighting the virus.” But it has increased pressure on companies to share information about how many Americans are exposed to misinformation on their platforms and how their secretive and powerful algorithms promote fake content to users.
“Do you have access to information from these platforms on which you receive misinformation?” he asked. “I don’t think the information has been released. Do you know how the algorithms work on one of these platforms? I don’t think the information has been released.”