U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday that social media networks are “killing people” by allowing the spread of misinformation about coronavirus vaccines.
“Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” Biden said after he was asked about his message for tech companies as he departed the White House on Friday. “And they’re killing people.”
Biden’s comments came shortly after the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the U.S. is seeing a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” in parts of the country where inoculation rates are low. Just four states accounted for 40% of COVID-19 cases in the past week, and the seven-day average of new infections is now up 70% from the previous week, with 26,300 new infections a day, U.S. officials said.
Only 55% of Americans have received one dose of the vaccine, and the pace is falling despite White House efforts to encourage Americans to get the shot.
Earlier this week, administration officials called on social media networks to do more to purge posts carrying incorrect information about the pandemic, or discouraging readers from taking vaccines that can largely eliminate the risk of a deadly outcome from coronavirus.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said his office had increased disinformation research and tracking within his office, and had proactively flagged problematic posts to Facebook Inc.
That revelation led to criticism from some conservatives, who argued the White House effort amounted to government censorship. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, tweeted that the White House was “colluding” with the social media giant, while Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, suggested the White House was defining misinformation as “stories that make Joe Biden look bad.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday said the outreach was no different than when the White House engaged regularly with news organizations, and called on social media companies to create “robust enforcement strategies” to combat those providing misinformation.
Facebook has previously said it removed millions of posts from its core product and the photo sharing app Instagram for violating its policies, and stepped up enforcement against repeat offenders. But Psaki said the administration “clearly” did not believe that was a sufficient response to a “life or death issue.”
“They’re going to make decisions about additional steps they can take,” Psaki said. “It’s clear there are more than can be taken.”
A Facebook spokesman pushed back, saying the administration’s assertions are “not supported by 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,” Facebook spokesman Kevin McAlister said in a statement. “The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives.”
When asked for comment Friday, Twitter Inc. referred to a tweet it posted Thursday in response to a call by the surgeon general for a “whole-of-society effort” to combat misinformation.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves around the world, we’ll continue to do our part to elevate authoritative health information,” Twitter said.
Twitter said that the company will “continue to do our part to elevate authoritative health information,” and referenced a tweet by the surgeon general about the responsibility to confront health misinformation.
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