Facebook did not stay quiet for long after President Joe Biden issued a startling statement, accusing the social network and others like it of “killing people” with vaccine misinformation. On the South Lawn of the White House on Friday, Biden was asked what message he had for platforms like Facebook on COVID-19 misinformation. “They’re killing people,” Biden responded. “I mean they really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that’s—they’re killing people.”
Facebook defended itself the next day, saying that its data does not lend credence to that narrative and insisting it will not be made the scapegoat of the country’s public health failings. “The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” Facebook said in a corporate blog post by Guy Rosen, a company vice president. “President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.” Rosen also said vaccine hesitancy among its users in the United States has been going down. The platform has made rules against making false claims about vaccines and says people can use its network to access reliable information.
Biden made the statement shortly after White House press secretary Jen Psaki also mentioned that the White House was working to flag problematic posts on Facebook that spread misinformation. “Our biggest concern, and frankly I think it should be your biggest concern, is the number of people who are dying around the country because they are getting misinformation that is leading them to not take a vaccine,” Psaki said during Friday’s press briefing after a Fox News reporter asked about the administration “spying” on social media posts. “Young people, old people, kids, children … a lot of them are being impacted by misinformation.” On Thursday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said false information and other assorted conspiracy theories amounted to an “urgent threat to public health.”
The back-and-forth shows the “increasingly tense relationship” between Biden and Facebook, notes Politico. Meetings between the Internet giant and the administration in recent days have been “tense,” a source told CNN. After the meetings, White House officials have reached the conclusion that Facebook was either not “taking this very seriously, or they are hiding something.”
The White House isn’t alone in raising the concerns. Rep. Adam Schiff, for example, also called on social media companies to do more against misinformation. “I agree that the platforms are going to have to do a much better job pushing out good information and making sure they’re not pushing misinformation that gets people killed,” Schiff said on CNN. “You know, I raised this issue with Facebook and other social media companies years ago with respect to flu vaccines, and they did take action and they’re going to need to take stronger action here. This pandemic is killing people.”