Biden was asked by reporters at the White House on Friday afternoon what his message is to social media platforms on coronavirus misinformation.
“They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people,” Biden said.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory Thursday labeling health misinformation an “urgent threat” amid the Biden administration’s push to get more people vaccinated. Murthy said that misinformation is among a range of reasons why some Americans are not getting vaccinated against COVID-19 despite vaccinations being widely available.
“Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users,” Murthy said during an appearance in the White House briefing room on Thursday. “They’ve allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation — what we call ‘disinformation’ — to have extraordinary reach.”
The White House is asking Facebook and other social media companies to be more aggressive in removing “harmful” posts that spread disinformation and flagging posts that spread information, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
“We are regularly making sure social media platforms are aware of the latest narratives dangerous to public health that we and many other Americans are seeing across all of social and traditional media and we work to engage with them to better understand the enforcement of social media platform policies,” Psaki told reporters Friday.
Psaki, as an example, noted the false narrative that coronavirus vaccines cause infertility that has spread on the internet.
“We want to know that the social media platforms are taking steps to address it,” Psaki said. “That is inaccurate, false information.”
Facebook pushed back on criticism about its efforts to combat COVID-19 misinformation, with a spokesperson saying in a statement, “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,” said Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever.
“The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period,” Lever added.
The effort to combat disinformation comes as the vaccination rate has slowed across the country and the more contagious delta variant has spread among unvaccinated Americans, causing COVID-19 cases to rise after they were on a decline.
Biden’s comments Friday afternoon echoed those of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, who warned earlier in the day that COVID-19 is “becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
“We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage, because unvaccinated people are at risk,” Walensky told reporters during a public health briefing.
Conservative lawmakers and media personalities in particular have engaged in anti-vaccine rhetoric and offered misleading comments about the Biden administration’s vaccine outreach, posing a growing problem for the United States as it looks to get past the pandemic.
Lawmakers such as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have endorsed the vaccines, pushing back on the resistance among other conservatives to them.