Social media platforms like Facebook are “killing people” by allowing disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine to spread online, US President Joe Biden said on Friday.
Biden’s comments capped weeks of anger in the White House over social media’s role in the dissemination of disinformation, even as the pace of vaccination slows down and the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads among populations. All 50 states have reported a jump in cases over the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The US is seeing an average of more than 26,000 new cases a day – the highest number in two months, according to Johns Hopkins.
“They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people,” Biden said at the White House as he left for a weekend at the presidential retreat in Camp David.
“Our point is that there is information that is leading to people not taking the vaccine, and people are dying as a result,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said before Biden made his comments. “And we have responsibility as a public health matter to raise that issue.”
Facebook said the administration’s assertions were not “supported by facts”. “The fact is that more than two 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. Period,” a Facebook spokesperson told AFP.
Dr Nahid Bhadelia, founding director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at Boston University, said she agrees with Biden.
“I think social media is playing a big role in amplifying misinformation, which is leading to people not taking the vaccine, which is killing them,” Bhadelia told CNBC channel. “It’s the honest truth. COVID, right now, is a vaccine-preventable disease.”
“They need to invest a lot more resources, and better enhance their balance of taking that information down more quickly, invest more resources in changing their matrix, because, right now, what gets on top of your page is not what’s correct, it’s what’s popular,” said Bhadelia, an NBC News medical contributor.
She also urged social media firms to partner with many more public health bodies in order to get the right information to people.