President Biden took his administration’s critical stance toward big tech up a notch on Friday, when he said that Facebook and other companies were “killing people” by not doing more to combat COVID vaccine misinformation on their platforms. “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” Biden said to a reporter outside the White House. “And they’re [the tech platforms] killing people.”
The comment comes amid increased efforts by the White House to pressure tech companies to do a better job policing anti-vaccine content shared by their users. Earlier Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki referenced the issue while speaking with reporters, calling the fight against false information about coronavirus vaccines “a life or death issue.” On Thursday, Psaki said that the Biden administration was engaging with Facebook directly and flagging misinformation-spreading posts. She also called on the companies to measure and be transparent about the impact of misinformation shared via their platforms and implement faster, more robust enforcement.
Also on Thursday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published a report arguing in part that social-media platforms need to put more money into their efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus misinformation, as the Verge’s Makena Kelly noted:
The report calls for an all-of-society push to address vaccine and coronavirus misinformation, including sweeping policy recommendations for companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. [Murthy] specifically calls on companies to redesign their algorithms to “avoid amplifying misinformation.” He also suggests that they build more “friction” into sharing functions that urge users to rethink whether to share a post containing false information. Murthy also recommends that platforms put out “clear consequences for accounts that repeatedly violate platform policies,” like instituting broader bans and suspensions for sharing misinformation.
Facebook, however, was not pleased with Biden suggesting it kills people. Responding to the president’s comment, a company spokesperson insisted, “We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,” and touted the platform as a source of “authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines.”
“The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives,” the spokesperson concluded. “Period.”
An unnamed Facebook official also eventually claimed the White House was trying to pass the buck:
The White House pressure campaign on big tech comes amid a rapid uptick in reported COVID-19 cases across the country among unvaccinated people, fueled by the spread of the dangerous Delta coronavirus variant.