The White House escalated its fight against vaccine misinformation on Friday, with President Biden directly criticizing Facebook and other platforms for allowing the spread of vaccine misinformation — thus increasing the ongoing death toll from the deadly pandemic.
When asked to post to platforms like Facebook, Biden replied, “They’re killing people… the only pandemic we have is an unvaccinated one, 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 enclosed below:
The statements come after a coordinated White House campaign that pressured 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 impose tougher penalties against accounts sharing misinformation. Speaking to the press corps, he specifically called out algorithmic recommendation engines like the Facebook News Feed for contributing misinformation.
“They designed product features, like ‘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 source of misinformation.”
A Facebook representative, who was asked for comment, defended the platform’s track record in combating vaccine misinformation. “We will not be distracted by allegations that are not substantiated 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 web. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder to find out where and how to get a vaccine.”
“The facts show that Facebook helps save lives,” the spokesperson continued. “Period of time.”
Some Republicans have objected to the White House’s push, seeing it as an unconstitutional attempt by the government to enforce speech restrictions in the private sector.
“The White House is colluding with Facebook to censor Americans,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), an outspoken proponent 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 declined in recent months. As a result, both the number of cases and deaths related to COVID-19 have risen in recent weeks as new variants of the infection reach the unvaccinated population. All available COVID-19 vaccines have gone through a rigorous testing process, which has shown that they: safe and effective.
Updated 5:16 PM ET: Includes response from Facebook.