Joe Biden told reporters last Friday that Facebook was “killing people” by refusing to take action against a number of anti-vax accounts spreading conspiracy theories, hoaxes and other misinformation about the new pandemic of coronavirus, which prompted the social network to react. with false indignation. Now, Biden is going back, sort of, saying that even though he meant what he said, he hopes Facebook and the public took him seriously but a little less than literally.
Biden’s initial comments referred to a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate which identified a handful of accounts-including antivax pillar Robert F. Kennedy Jr., disgraced researcher Joseph Mercola, and others, including Dr Sherri Tenpenny, Rizza Islam, and Ty & Charlene Bollinger, as being disproportionately responsible for a flood of content promoting inaccurate vaccine information on social media sites. Facebook has taken few serious enforcement actions against these accounts, even after RFK Jr. get banned on the Instagram affiliate.
Facebook deviated with a Press release over the weekend which decried “finger pointing” and argued that the site is in fact reducing levels of vaccine reluctance, highlighting statistics showing increased levels of public will from taking the vaccine to the United States and claiming that Facebook was also the source of copious amounts of accurate vaccine information. The points of the company do not hold. For example, Facebook said it reduced distribution of 167 million covid-19 content debunked by fact-checkers, meaning it ended up with labels or sluggish distribution. As the The Washington Post pointed out, Facebook has not indicated how much anti-tax information has been shared or used on the site. This conveniently leaves out the extent of the problem, although a lot can be deduced from how the company has tried to fend off similar issues like the far-right clickbait deluge on the site under a carpet.
Facebook also fired less politely, with an anonymous executive tell CNN this weekend that US surgeon general Vivek Murthy had privately praised his anti-disinformation work and that the White House was looking for a “scapegoat.”
The White House isn’t backing down completely, but the president also seems to have concluded that he went a little too far in calling the site directly responsible for the unnecessary deaths caused by anti-ax propaganda. According to CNN, Biden told reporter Kaitlan Collins on Monday that he “meant precisely what I said” and “I’m glad you asked me that question.”
“Facebook isn’t killing people – these 12 people are there to give out misinformation,” Biden said. “Anyone who listens to it suffers. It kills people. This is bad information. I hope Facebook, instead of taking it personally, that somehow I’m saying Facebook is killing people, that they would do something about the misinformation, outrageous misinformation about the vaccine.
“That’s what I meant,” Biden continued.
Biden also added that he was simply trying to force Facebook to reconsider its position on moral grounds. He said he “isn’t trying to hold people to account, I’m trying to make people look at themselves, look at themselves in the mirror.”
“Think about this misinformation being passed on to your son, your daughter, your parent, someone you love. That’s what I’m asking, ”he concluded. (it will work!)
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a press briefing last week that the administration was compilation of antivax content circulating on Facebook and proposed major changes to moderation strategies in social media companies, such as creating a “robust enforcement strategy” and taking faster action against harmful posts. Murthy also warned during the briefing that social media companies that promote “emotionally charged content, not specific content” were “[giving] us more of what we click, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of disinformation. CNN reported separately that a source said meetings between the White House and Facebook on the issue were increasingly “tense”.
On Monday, according to CNN, Psaki told reporters that while the Biden administration is “not in a war or a battle with Facebook” but with the coronavirus pandemic, it had “not withdrawn any options” in terms of regulatory actions that could be pursued. What action this might take, if any, remains unclear. Psaki went to Congress to get details of any plan.
“It’s up to Congress to determine how they want to go forward,” Psaki said.