President Biden took a sharp jab at Facebook and other social networks, saying that they are “killing people” by facilitating the spread of misinformation about coronavirus vaccines.
Asked by a reporter at the White House Friday what his message was to platforms like Facebook regarding COVID-19 misinformation, Biden replied: “They’re killing people.” He was addressing reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.
“Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that’s — they’re killing people,” the president continued.
Facebook hit back, saying Biden’s remarks “aren’t supported by the facts.”
“We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,” the social-media giant said in a statement. “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.”
Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had criticized Facebook for not doing more to stop vaccine misinformation, calling it a “life-or-death issue.” About Facebook, she said, “They’re a private-sector company. They’re going to make decisions about additional steps they can take. It’s clear there are more that can be taken.”
Facebook has touted efforts to improve access to information about vaccines and how to get vaccinated, making it easier for people to share their support for vaccines, “and reducing misinformation about vaccines.” The company claims that millions of people have visited the Facebook vaccine-finder tool since it launched in March.
In addition, Facebook in May said it had given more than $30 million worth of ad credits to help governments, nongovernmental organizations and other groups “reach people with COVID-19 vaccine information and other important messages,” resulting in more than 10 billion ad impressions globally.
Biden’s comments came after U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a report July 15, which in part called on internet platforms to more aggressively crack down on COVID misinformation. At a press conference, he specifically cited Facebook’s News Feed for contributing to the spread of misinformation. “They’ve designed product features, such as ‘like’ buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally charged content, not accurate content,” he said. “And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation.”
Republicans have also been critical of Facebook and other internet services — but the ire on that side of the aisle has stemmed from the belief that big tech companies are censoring conservative viewpoints. Donald Trump, who was broadly deplatformed over his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, recently sued Facebook, Twitter and Google with that allegation as the crux of his complaint.