President Biden on Friday defended his administration’s policing of Facebook and other social media sites for misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
“They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people,” Mr. Biden said of the posts that the administration deems problematic.
His comments ramp up the fight between the administration and social media sites as the White House continues to urge Silicon Valley to get a handle on vaccine misinformation. The president spoke to reporters as he walked towards Marine One to depart for a weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat.
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki revealed that the White House had flagged problematic social-media posts because they contain “misinformation” about COVID-19 vaccines.
The revelation sparked an outcry among privacy rights and free-speech activists, who accused the administration of censorship.
Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center said in a tweet that “being anti-vaccine is part of free speech.” He also accused Ms. Psaki of being “against freedom.”
“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,” she said. “They’re 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.”
One example Ms. Psaki highlighted was the repeated spread of the false narrative that COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility.
“This is troubling but a persistent narrative that we and many have seen, and we want to know that the social media platforms are taking steps to address it,” she said. “That is inaccurate, false information.”
Ms. Psaki singled out 12 people that had been dubbed the “disinformation dozen,” saying they were responsible for about 65% of the anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms.
That statistic comes from a March report from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, which called on Facebook and Twitter to shut down pages run by those 12 people.
Ms. Psaki also outlined steps that social-media companies can take to fight vaccine misinformation. This includes publicly detailing the impact of misinformation on their platforms, promoting quality information and taking action against harmful posts, she said.
“Information travels quite quickly,” Ms. Psaki said. “If it’s up there for days and days and days, when people see it — it’s hard to put that back in a box.”
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