UPDATED, with Facebook response: President Joe Biden lashed out at social media platforms as the conduits for the spread of misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccines, reflecting the concern that the White House has over the spread of the Delta variant among the unvaccinated.
As Biden left for Camp David on Friday, NBC News’ Peter Alexander asked Biden, “On the topic of disinformation, what’s your message to platforms like Facebook?”
“They’re killing people,” Biden said. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they’re killing people.”
Facebook has defended its actions to root out disinformation on their platform, but the White House has called for the company to take greater steps.
In response to Biden’s comment, Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever said in a statement, “We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the 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. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that, among other things, they have had discussions with Facebook and are flagging problematic posts that spread disinformation.
She also said that they have proposed a “robust enforcement strategy that bridges their properties and provides transparency about the rules.”
“There’s about 12 people who are producing 65 percent of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms,” Psaki said. “All of them remain active on Facebook, despite some even being banned on other platforms, including Facebook — ones that Facebook owns.”
The citing of 12 people appeared to be a reference to a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which identified a group that included Joseph Mercola, Robert Kennedy Jr. and Ty and Charlene Bollinger.
But Psaki’s remarks drew a furor among figures on the right, who claimed that the White House was pressuring Facebook to censor content.
At the White House press briefing on Friday, Psaki continued the criticism of social media platforms, and called for greater transparency. She suggested that “you shouldn’t be banned from one platform and not others for providing misinformation out there.”
Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy asked Psaki, “How long has the administration been spying on people’s Facebook profiles, looking for vaccine misinformation?”
Psaki responded, “Well, that was quite a loaded and inaccurate question. … As you know we are in regular touch with a range of media outlets as we are in regular touch with social media platforms. This is publicly open information, people sharing information online, just as you all reporting information on your news stations.”
Doocy then asked whether the 12 people “you have on a list, do they know that the Surgeon General’s office is going through their profile.”
Psaki said that she was “happy to get you the citation of where that comes from. There is no secret list. I will tell you that these are people that are sharing information on public platforms on Facebook…Our biggest concern here, and frankly I think it should be your biggest concern, is the number of people who are dying around the country because they are getting misinformation that is leading them to not take a vaccine. Young people, old people, kids, children. A lot of them are being impacted by misinformation.”