The White House escalated its fight against vaccine misinformation on Friday, with President Biden directly criticizing Facebook and other platforms for allowing vaccine misinformation to spread — and consequently raising the ongoing death toll from the deadly pandemic.
Asked for a message to platforms like Facebook, Biden replied, “They’re killing people ... the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they’re killing people.” The White House did not immediately respond to a request for clarification of the president’s comments.
The full exchange is embedded below:
Reporter: "What's your message to platforms like Facebook?"— The Hill (@thehill) July 16, 2021
President Biden: "They're killing people." pic.twitter.com/jrAvQpG7i0
The statements come after a coordinated campaign from the White House pressuring Facebook and other platforms to act more aggressively to counter misinformation about coronavirus vaccines. On Thursday, a report from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called on platforms to institute stricter penalties against accounts that share misinformation. Speaking to the press corps, he specifically called out algorithmic recommendation engines like the Facebook News Feed for contributing to misinformation.
“They’ve designed product features, such as ‘Like’ buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally charged content, not accurate content,” Murthy told reporters. “And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation.”
Reached for comment, a Facebook representative defended the platform’s record of fighting vaccine misinformation. “We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “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,” the spokesperson continued. “Period.”
A number of Republicans have objected to the White House push, seeing it as an unconstitutional effort by the government to bring about private-sector speech restrictions.
“The White House is colluding with Facebook to censor Americans,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), an outspoken supporter of antitrust action against Facebook. “This is an attack on the First Amendment.”
Vaccines to protect against COVID-19 are widely available in the US, but vaccination rates have slowed in recent months. As a result, both case numbers and deaths linked to COVID-19 have risen in recent weeks as new variants of the contagion reach the unvaccinated population. All available COVID-19 vaccines have been through a stringent testing process, which has found that they are safe and effective.
Updated 5:16PM ET: Included comment from Facebook.