President Joe Biden has said that social media companies are “killing people” by failing to police misinformation on their platforms about COVID-19 vaccines.
Biden’s comments came a day after US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared misinformation about the vaccines a threat to public health and as US officials advised that deaths and serious illness from the virus are almost entirely preventable because of the vaccines.
Biden, asked if he had a message for platforms like Facebook where false or misleading information about the coronavirus vaccines has spread, told reporters on Friday: “They’re killing people.”
“The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” he said.
Speaking on Thursday, Murthy said misinformation about COVID-19, deemed an “infodemic” by the World Health Organization (WHO), was deadly.
“Misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health,” Murthy said during remarks on Thursday at the White House. “We must confront misinformation as a nation. Lives are depending on it.”
Given the role the internet plays in spreading health misinformation, Murthy said technology companies and social media platforms must make meaningful 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, the platforms are built in ways that encourage, not counter, the spread of misinformation.
“We are asking them to step up,” Murthy said. “We can’t wait longer for them to take aggressive action.”
Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever responded: “We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts. The fact is that more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”
Twitter posted on its platform, “As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves around the world, we’ll continue to do our part to elevate authoritative health information.”
We agree, @Surgeon_General. Combating health misinformation requires a whole-of-society approach. Thanks for your leadership.
— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) July 15, 2021
The Delta variant of the coronavirus is now the dominant strain worldwide, accompanied by a surge of deaths around the United States almost entirely among unvaccinated people, US officials said on Friday.
American cases of COVID-19 are up 70 percent over the previous week and deaths are up 26 percent, with outbreaks occurring in parts of the country with low vaccination rates.
Earlier on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also criticised Facebook.
“Obviously, there are steps they have taken. They’re a private-sector company,” Psaki told a White House briefing. “There are additional steps they can take. It’s clear that there are more that can be taken.”
On Thursday, she said the Biden administration was in regular contact with Facebook and was flagging problematic posts.
Psaki said 12 people were responsible for almost 65 percent of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. The finding was reported in May by the Washington- and London-based nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate but Facebook has disputed the methodology.