President Joe Biden sharply criticized tech platforms like Facebook on which Covid-19 vaccine misinformation spreads, a day after his administration issued an urgent warning on the proliferation of vaccine misinformation this week as hesitancy over getting the shot remains high.
Asked by a reporter Friday what his message is to Facebook and other platforms, Biden responded: “They’re killing people.”
“The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” Biden said, before reiterating the platforms are “killing” those who choose not to get the shot.
The president’s comments come one day after U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory against “the urgent threat of health misinformation,” which warns product features on tech platforms that “reward engagement rather than accuracy” are “contribut[ing] to the spread of misinformation.”
Murthy reiterated his concerns during a White House Covid-19 briefing Friday, saying the spread of misinformation “has led to avoidable illnesses and deaths” and the issue demands an “all-of-society” response.
The surgeon general singled out tech companies and said they “must act” against misinformation, suggesting platforms should increase transparency, change their algorithms to stop misinformation from spreading and “swiftly and consistently take action against misinformation super-spreaders on their platforms.”
Facebook has not yet responded to a request for comment on Biden’s comments.
“Technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users,” Murthy said at the Covid-19 briefing Friday, noting those who intentionally spread misinformation on tech platforms can “have extraordinary reach.” “In this advisory, we’re telling technology companies that we expect more.”
67%. That’s the percentage of unvaccinated Americans who believed at least one myth about the Covid-19 vaccine, according an April poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, including false claims that the vaccines themselves cause Covid-19 or infertility, vaccines can alter DNA, it is expensive to get vaccinated and that those who have already had Covid-19 should not get the shot.
Facebook has taken steps to address vaccine misinformation on its platform, including by directing people toward information from trusted sources on the vaccine, giving advertising credits to public health agencies to share vaccine information, prioritizing authoritative sources on its search tools and expanding efforts to eradicate misinformation from its platform by adding a wider range of false claims as being grounds for a post’s removal.
Misinformation has long been an issue on Facebook and concern of federal officials and lawmakers, not only involving Covid-19 but also issues like the 2020 election and climate change. The Biden administration’s condemnation of vaccine misinformation comes as vaccine hesitancy remains a major issue in the U.S., with the country failing to reach Biden’s goal of 70% of U.S. adults receiving at least one vaccine dose by July 4. Eighteen states still have only inoculated fewer than 50% of their population with at least one vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health officials have particularly urged people to get vaccinated in light of the highly transmissible Delta variant, which is now causing Covid-19 cases to rise in all 50 states, as studies suggest the vaccines are largely protective against the Delta variant and are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death. “There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday.
Persistent Vaccine Myths (Kaiser Family Foundation)