After coming under fire from President Joe Biden and the U.S. surgeon general, who both said last week that misinformation on social media is killing Americans, Facebook Inc. had a blunt response over the weekend: Don’t blame us.
“At a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in America, the Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social-media companies,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s
vice president of integrity, wrote in a blog post Saturday. He said data shows 85% of Facebook users in the U.S. have been or want to be vaccinated. “President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.”
Last Thursday, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called vaccine misinformation on social media “a serious threat to public health.”
“Simply put, health misinformation has cost us lives,” Murthy said.
That same day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki singled out Facebook specifically, telling reporters it “needs to move more quickly to remove violative posts.” Biden took that a step further Friday, saying flat out that Facebook and other social-media companies are “killing people.”
In Saturday’s blog post, Facebook’s Rosen strongly refuted those claims, arguing that Facebook has actually helped reduce the rate of vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. by 50%, encouraged vaccinations among users and removed more than 18 million pieces of vaccine misinformation, and he chided the Biden administration to stop “finger pointing.”
“While social media plays an important role in society, it is clear that we need a whole-of-society approach to end this pandemic. And facts — not allegations — should help inform that effort,” Rosen said. “The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the U.S. has increased.”
The heated public exchanges have come amid frustration by the White House following unproductive, months-long discussions about reining in vaccine misinformation with Facebook, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. The Biden administration reportedly decided that public pressure on Facebook might be more effective.
The White House did not publicly comment on Facebook’s response Sunday, but Murthy, appearing on CNN stuck to his message. “I’ve been very consistent in what I’ve said to the technology companies,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “When we see steps that are good, we should acknowledge those. But what I’ve also said to them, publicly and privately, is that it’s not enough. That we are still seeing a proliferation of misinformation online. And we know that health misinformation harms people’s health. It costs them their lives.”
In that same interview, Murthy said said he was worried by the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, and noted that nearly all U.S. coronavirus deaths now are among those unvaccinated. To date, about 49% of Americans have been fully vaccinated, while 90 million eligible people in the U.S. have not.
Facebook shares retreated nearly 3% last week, but are up 25% year to date, and up 41% over the past 12 months.