WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Friday that social media companies are “killing people” by failing to police misinformation on their platforms about COVID-19 vaccines.
Biden’s comments came a day after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared misinformation about the vaccines a threat to public health, and as U.S. officials advised that deaths and serious illness from the virus are almost entirely preventable because of the vaccines.
Biden, asked if he had a message for platforms like Facebook where false or misleading information about the coronavirus vaccines has spread, told reporters, “They’re killing people.”
“The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” he said.
Speaking Thursday, Murthy said misinformation about COVID-19, deemed an “infodemic” by the World Health Organization, was deadly.
“Misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health,” Murthy said during remarks Thursday at the White House. “We must confront misinformation as a nation. Lives are depending on it.”
Given the role the internet plays in spreading health misinformation, 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.
Too often, he said, the platforms are built in ways that encourage, not counter, the spread of misinformation.
“We are asking them to step up,” Murthy said. “We can’t wait longer for them to take aggressive action.”
Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever responded: “We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts. 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. Period.”
Twitter posted on its platform, “As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves around the world, we’ll continue to do our part to elevate authoritative health information.”
AP writer Barbara Ortutay in New York contributed to this report.