US President Joe Biden pauses to answer a question from NBC correspondent Peter Alexander as he leaves the White House on July 16.
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President Joe Biden said on Friday that technology platforms like Facebook are “killing people” by allowing misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines to spread online.
“They are killing people,” Biden said on the White House lawn. “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated.”
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A Facebook spokesperson rejected Biden’s allegations, noting that the company directed more than 2 billion people to reliable information on COVID-19 and vaccines. Facebook has an online hub for COVID-19 information as part of an effort to direct people to authoritative sources. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used Facebook’s vaccine search tool, he said.
“We will not be distracted by allegations that are not supported by facts,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”
The comments come as tension grows between Washington and Facebook as politicians and regulators try to control the power of the world’s largest tech companies. Biden had been critical of Facebook before winning the US presidency., telling The New York Times in January 2020 that he was not a “fan” of Facebook or CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Biden’s most recent comments came a day after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory saying health misinformation isurgent threat“to the public in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although social networks like Facebook say they have stepped up their efforts to curb the spread of health misinformation, the spread of this type of content remains a problem.
The advisory, issued Thursday, says disinformation has hindered the United States’ response to the pandemic and prevented Americans from get vaccinated. Ask social media companies, as well as individuals, to help combat health misinformation.
“As a general surgeon, my job is to help people stay safe and healthy, and without limiting the spread of health misinformation, the lives of Americans are at risk,” Murthy said in a statement. “From tech and social media companies that must do more to address spread across their platforms, until we all identify and avoid sharing misinformation, addressing this challenge will require a whole-of-society approach, but it’s critical in the long term – health at the end of our nation. “
Murthy spoke about the notice during a briefing at the White House Thursday. During that briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said there are about a dozen people creating 65% of the misinformation about the vaccine on social media platforms. That statistic appears to come from a May report released by the Center for the fight against digital hate.
Psaki also specifically called Facebook on Thursday, saying the administration is pointing out problematic posts to the social media giant.
“There are about 12 people who are producing 65% of the misinformation against vaccines on social media platforms, all of them remain active on Facebook, even though some are even banned on other platforms that Facebook owns,” he said Psaki.
Facebook said it removed more than a dozen pages, groups and accounts of some of the people Psaki mentioned at the press conference. The social network said it has also removed more than 18 million pieces of misinformation about COVID-19.
“We have partnered with government experts, health authorities and researchers to take aggressive action against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines to protect public health,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.