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Biden calls on Facebook to tackle misinformation after saying it’s ‘killing people’

Guardian Technology 19 Jul 2021 08:12

Joe Biden has tempered his assessment that social media platforms are “killing people” by hosting misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccines, saying Monday that he hoped they would not take it “personally” and instead would act to save lives.

While companies like Facebook defend their practices and say they are helping people around the world access verified information about the shots, the White House says they haven’t done enough to stop misinformation that has helped to slow the pace of new vaccinations in the US to a trickle. It comes as the US sees a rise in virus cases and deaths among those who haven’t gotten a shot, in what officials call an emerging “pandemic of the unvaccinated”.

Speaking at the White House, Biden insisted he meant “precisely what I said” when he said Friday of the tech giants that “they’re killing people”. But he said the point of his rhetoric was to ramp up pressure on the companies to take action.

“My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally that somehow I’m saying ‘Facebook is killing people,’ that they would do something about the misinformation,” Biden said.

“Facebook isn’t killing people. These 12 people are out there giving misinformation, anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it, it’s killing people,” Biden said. “It’s bad information.”

Last week the US surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, declared misinformation about the vaccines a deadly threat to public health.

Murthy said technology companies and social media platforms must make meaningful changes to their products and software to reduce the spread of false information while increasing access to authoritative, fact-based sources.

“We are asking them to step up,” Murthy said. “We can’t wait longer for them to take aggressive action.”

The company also released a blogpost saying its internal research showed it was not responsible for Biden’s missed vaccination goal. “The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against Covid-19. President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.”

“Do you have access to information from these platforms as to who is receiving misinformation?” she asked. “I don’t think that information has been released. Do you know how the algorithms are working at any of these platforms? I don’t think that information has been released.”

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