After President Joe Biden accused Facebook posters of “killing people” who might not get the COVID-19 vaccination, an anonymous company official shot back Biden was using them as a “scapegoat” for the administration’s own vaccine failures.
“In private exchanges, the Surgeon General has praised our work, including our efforts to inform people about COVID-19,” the unnamed official told NBC News reporter Dylan Byers via Twitter. “They knew what they were doing. The White House is looking for scapegoats for missing their vaccine goals.”
Biden raised eyebrows Friday during an impromptu exchange with a gaggle of reporters outside the White House.
“They’re killing people,” Biden said on the South Lawn of the White House when asked about unvaccinated people possibly seeing disinformation on the platform. “I mean they really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they’re killing people.”
In a formal statement to Byers, the company said Biden’s allegation was not factual.
“We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,” Facebook’s statement read. “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.”
The dust up comes in the same week White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration, through the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, was “flagging” people’s posts that they see as spreading wrong information about the virus and the vaccines.
Psaki bristled when a reporter asked how long the administration, by using this practice, was “spying” on citizens.
“This is publicly open information, people sharing information online, just as you are all reporting information on your news stations,” she said during Friday’s press briefing. “Our biggest concern here, and I, frankly, think it should be your biggest concern, is the number of people who are dying around the country because they’re getting misinformation that is leading them to not take a vaccine.”
According to a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate,’ only about 12 people on social media platforms are responsible for most of the misinformation regarding the virus or the vaccines available to counter it.
“With widespread distribution of coronavirus vaccines, we have an opportunity to turn a corner on the pandemic,” the organization’s report reads. “Our recovery depends on the public’s willingness to receive a vaccine. However, researchers are increasingly connecting misinformation disseminated via social media to increased vaccine hesitancy, which will ultimately cause unnecessary deaths.”
While the report acknowledges both Facebook and Twitter’s actions to prevent bad information from appearing on their platforms, it also says the companies “have failed” enforcing the policies they enacted to prevent the spread of misinformation, the report said.
“All have been particularly ineffective at removing harmful and dangerous misinformation about coronavirus vaccines, though the scale of misinformation on Facebook, and thus the impact of their failure, is larger,” the report summary said. “Further, they have all failed to remove the accounts of prominent anti-vaxxers who have repeatedly violated their terms of service, as documented in later sections of this report.”