Why Biden has eased up on Facebook over COVID misinformation


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When U.S. President Joe Biden accused Facebook of “killing folks” by spreading vaccine lies in July, many specialists and researchers hoped it marked the start of a White House battle in opposition to a flood of misinformation in regards to the coronavirus pandemic coursing by way of the United States.

Six months later, the deluge of misinformation continues and entities combating dangerous info need the White House to do extra. COVID-19 deaths not too long ago hit their highest in nearly a yr, with over 2,600 folks dying on common every day. U.S. research present the unvaccinated are dying at a lot increased charges than these with jabs and boosters.

“The downside of vaccine misinformation was massive a yr in the past and it’s nonetheless massive now,” stated David Lazer, who co-leads the Covid States Project. Fighting misinformation “requires continued focus and a spotlight and energy,” he stated.

After slamming Facebook on July 16, Biden by no means once more publicly accused Facebook or one other firm by title of spreading misinformation, based on a Reuters evaluation of the president’s speeches and remarks since that day. Biden has delivered 24 speeches on COVID particularly, together with townhalls, since he referred to as out Facebook, the evaluation exhibits.

Interviews with 11 White House sources, specialists and researchers who’ve labored with the Biden administration on this subject present that prime White House aides really feel Biden has few authorized choices to drive social media platforms to conform and the administration has not been capable of settle on a method to rein in Silicon Valley. Several items of laws to carry social media corporations accountable have stalled.

Biden additionally didn’t problem an government order or proclamation to fight misinformation as he has performed almost three dozen instances on different pandemic points, based on a Reuters tally of White House information.

A dozen misinformation superspreaders recognized by the White House and the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) final yr, nonetheless maintain over 40 accounts on Meta Platforms Inc-owned Facebook, Alphabet’s YouTube and different social media corporations, with tens of millions of followers, as of December.

The White House “has been in common contact with social media platforms, in addition to leaders and media retailers in regards to the important significance of guaranteeing that they don’t peddle misinformation,” a White House official stated. These conferences, the official stated, embrace discussing the work such entities are doing to fight dangerous info, and holding them accountable.

A majority of healthcare staff, in a January survey carried out by the COVID States Project, a U.S. analysis group attempting to know why so many Americans don’t wish to get vaccinated, stated vaccine misinformation is “the one most necessary issue influencing unvaccinated sufferers choice to not get the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Social media – significantly Facebook – stays one of the vital generally cited sources of misinformation negatively impacting sufferers, the healthcare staff within the survey stated.

A Meta spokesperson declined to remark however the firm beforehand stated it had eliminated greater than 24 million items of COVID-19 content material globally and displayed warnings on greater than 195 million items of COVID-related content material on Facebook for violating its insurance policies.

A YouTube spokesperson stated the corporate has terminated the channels of a number of well-known spreaders of vaccine misinformation and since October 2020, it had eliminated over 130,000 movies for COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.


Biden has no simple authorized choices as a result of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields social media corporations from being answerable for what customers put up on their platforms, based on White House sources, specialists and researchers who’ve labored with the White House on this subject.

“The administration…is in truth far too cozy with tech corporations, there may be in fact an institutional resistance on the civil servant degree,” stated Imran Ahmed, chief government of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, who engaged with the White House final yr on the problem. “It poses a significant issue if you’re in search of to legislate and go into fight in opposition to corporations.”

Tech corporations had been a number of the prime donors to Biden’s election marketing campaign and now former Silicon Valley insiders serve in key positions within the administration.

Two White House sources, who labored on the problem final yr, stated the rationale Biden backed off was as a consequence of few authorized choices and disagreement contained in the White House over how robust to be on tech corporations.

“The most that may be performed is urging the businesses to take motion and we did lots of that final yr,” one of many sources stated.

Top officers on the White House held a sequence of combative conferences with social media corporations, and Facebook particularly, main up to final July to get the corporate and others to behave on vaccine misinformation. Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, amongst others, additionally criticized the platforms publicly.

The rising stress culminated with Biden’s off-the-cuff feedback on July 16. Since then, Biden has avoided blaming social media corporations immediately by title.

Biden addressed dangerous info on social media platforms 4 instances since July 16. Twice he walked again his feedback on Facebook: he stated “Facebook is not killing folks” on July 19 and added “I wasn’t attacking Facebook” on July 22.

He additionally talked about the phrase “misinformation” within the context of it being an issue, with out mentioning the position particular social media corporations play, six instances since July 16.

A Surgeon General’s advisory about well being misinformation within the United States, issued after Biden’s July comment, focuses on how communities can fight it, not the businesses spreading it. The latest controversy involving Spotify’s position in spreading COVID misinformation, drew boilerplate criticism from the White House, saying the businesses ought to do extra to cease such content material.

Hany Farid, a pc science professor and misinformation researcher on the University of California at Berkeley, urged the White House’s home coverage workforce final yr to do extra to deal with misinformation.

Farid stated he has not seen a “coherent or constant message” from the White House and needs to see extra management on the subject publicly. “I’ve not seen a message from the White House… to Congress to get critical about this.”

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Lisa Shumaker)

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