President Joe Biden on Monday softened his criticism of Facebook, days after he said the platform is “killing people” because of vaccine misinformation the social media giant allows to circulate on its platform.
During an unrelated event on the economy, Biden jumped at the chance to clarify his previous remark, shifting the blame from Facebook to a dozen people he said are circulating most of the misleading claims.
“Facebook isn’t killing people,” Biden said in response to a reporter’s question. “These 12 people who are out there giving misinformation – anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki echoed the president’s reversal, declaring the White House is not “in a war or a battle with Facebook.”
“We are in a battle with the virus,” she said.
Last week, Psaki took a harder line.
“Our biggest concern, 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,” Psaki said Friday.
Story from Carl’s Jr.
80 years of Carl’s Jr.’s American Dream
With their cheery neon signs shining out to hungry travelers from the roadside, quick service restaurants seem like something that have always been a part of the American landscape. But there weren’t always delicious spots to pull over for a quick burger, fries and soda.
See More →
Also last week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy used the first advisory he’s issued since taking office to warn that health misinformation is an urgent threat to public health.
His advisory, a step reserved for “significant public health challenges” that need immediate attention, called for social media companies to share their data on misinformation to get a better handle on the situation. Murthy also said platforms should redesign their algorithms to avoid amplifying false content.
Biden stirred controversy on Friday when he made the initial comments, which came in response to a reporter’s question about what message he had for social media companies like Facebook on vaccine misinformation.
“They’re killing people – I mean they’re really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” Biden told reporters.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the nation’s economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden also reiterated his hope that Facebook will better police vaccine misinformation on their platform.
Facebook quickly responded, saying on Friday that the president’s accusation was not “supported by the facts” and touting its efforts to share accurate information about COVID-19.
“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,” spokesperson Kevin McAlister told USA TODAY. “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.”
Biden said on Monday that Facebook officials should be less defense about his remarks and more proactive about vaccine falsehoods. He said he hopes the company will act on the “outrageous misinformation” circulating on the site.
“That’s what I meant,” he reiterated.