President Joe Biden retracted some of his previous criticisms of Facebook
"Facebook isn't killing people," Biden said, quoted by CNBC, adding that he hopes the social media giant will do more to combat misinformation about COVID vaccines on its platform "instead of taking it personally that somehow I'm saying Facebook is killing people."
However, Biden appeared to say just that last week, telling White House reporters on Friday that "the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated," and that social media platforms like Facebook are "killing people," through the circulation of misinformation by their users.
"We will not be distracted by accusations which aren't supported by the facts," Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever said in a statement to ABC News in response to the President's comments. "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," Lever added. "Period."
Recently, the White House has increased its pressure on Facebook and other social media platforms to combat COVID vaccine misinformation as the Delta variant, which first emerged in India, becomes the dominant strain in the United States. The U.S. is still behind on Biden's self-imposed goal to have 70% of the U.S. adult population having at least one dose of the vaccine by July 4. Two weeks later, only 68.3% of that demographic has at least one dose and 59.5% are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, meaning they have received both doses of either Pfizer
Health officials estimate that all current COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated populations, since vaccine data demonstrates that those who are fully vaccinated are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms if they contract the Delta variant. This is why combating vaccine misinformation is so important, because COVID deaths are now pretty much preventable.
"We're dealing with a life or death issue here, and so everybody has a role to play in making sure there's accurate information," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said before Biden's remarks on Friday during a press conference. "[Facebook] is a private sector company. They're going to make decisions about additional steps they can take. It's clear there are more that can be taken."
Before Biden's comments were made, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called on social media companies to curb misinformation related to the pandemic and vaccines in his first health advisory since being confirmed to the position, saying "health misinformation is a serious threat to public health."
In a press conference accompanying the health advisory, Murthy said that while health misinformation did not begin with the COVID-19 pandemic, tech companies have changed that "speed and scale" at which the false information is spreading.
"Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users," Murthy stated. "They've allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation to have extraordinary reach."
"They've designed product features, such as 'Like' buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally-charged content, not accurate content. And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation," Murthy added, asking tech companies to operate with greater transparency and accountability, and to consistently take action against misinformation "super-spreaders" on their platform.