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Covid US: Joe Biden says misinformation is killing people amid White House ‘censorship’ row


President Biden said social media platforms such as Facebook were ‘killing people’ as the White House on Friday doubled down on the danger of COVID-19 misinformation.

He spoke to reporters minutes after the issue dominated a White House press briefing, with reporters asking whether the administration was spying on American citizens by flagging misleading, dangerous information.

As he left for a weekend at Camp David, Biden was asked if he had a message for social media companies like Facebook. 

‘They’re killing people. I mean it really,’ he said.

‘Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. 

‘And they’re killing people.’

President Biden told reporters social media companies were killing people with the spread of misinformation. ‘Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,’ he said as he left the White House on Friday afternoon for a weekend at Camp David

Biden and the White House defended its actions after it emerged that officials were flagging 'problematic'  messages on Facebook. Critics said they were breaching the First Amendment

Biden and the White House defended its actions after it emerged that officials were flagging ‘problematic’  messages on Facebook. Critics said they were breaching the First Amendment

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, was asked repeatedly about how the White House could justify flagging social media posts about COVID-19 to Facebook

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, was asked repeatedly about how the White House could justify flagging social media posts about COVID-19 to Facebook

Facebook hit back at Biden’s comments, saying more than three million people had used its vaccine finder service.

‘We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,’ said Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever. 

‘The fact is that more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19/vaccines on FB.’

A day earlier the White House confirmed it had stepped up COVID-19 misinformation tracking as it tried to tackle slowing rates of vaccination and surging infections across the nation, flagging misleading posts to Facebook for removal.

Psaki said about 12 people were responsible for 65 percent of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. 

‘All of them remain active on Facebook, despite some even being banned on other platforms, including… ones that Facebook owns,’ she said on Thursday as she spelled out the action being taken.    

On Friday, White House press Jen Psaki was quizzed repeatedly about the practice of flagging posts.

Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked: ‘For how long has the administration been spying on people’s Facebook profiles looking for vaccine misinformation?’ 

‘That was quite a loaded and inaccurate question,’ responded Psaki, insisting that the White House had similar conversations with news companies to keep the record straight.

The row erupted as officials react to a rise in COVID-19- cases, hospitalizations and deaths across the U.S. 

The U.S. recorded 28,412 new cases on Thursday as the numbers tick back upward in what CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said was a 'pandemic of the unvaccinated'

The U.S. recorded 28,412 new cases on Thursday as the numbers tick back upward in what CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said was a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ 

Nearly every state and the District of Columbia have seen infections rise in the last week

Nearly every state and the District of Columbia have seen infections rise in the last week 

Fox News' Peter Doocy accused the administration of spying on people's Facebook profiles, one of series of tough questions in a noisy briefing room on Friday

Fox News’ Peter Doocy accused the administration of spying on people’s Facebook profiles, one of series of tough questions in a noisy briefing room on Friday

The most recent seven-day average of new cases was 26,300, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a jump of almost 70 percent. 

The cases are concentrated among people who have not been vaccinated, triggering a fresh push to ensure that accurate information is available.

‘Our point is that there is information that is leading to people not taking the vaccine and people are dying as a result. We have a responsibility as a public health matter to raise that issue,’ said Psaki. 

And she  insisted the social media platforms were free to do as they pleased with the information supplied by the administration.

‘We don’t take anything down,’ she said. ‘We don’t block anything. 

‘Facebook, and any private sector company, makes decisions about what information should be on their platform.’

The danger was too big to ignore, she said. 

‘It is life and death,’ she said. ‘It is a public health issue.’

But she also took a dig at social media companies, suggesting they should be doing more.  

HOW LIKELY ARE YOU TO GET COVID-19 AFTER BEING FULLY VACCINATED?

So-called ‘breakthrough’ COVID-19 cases occur when people contract the disease 14 days or more after receiving their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or the Johnson & Johnson one-shot jab.

Clinical trials have shown that Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine is 95% effective in preventing symptomatic disease and the Moderna vaccine is 94.5% effective.

Meanwhile, real-world data showed the Pfizer jab is 91% effective against all disease for at least six months and the Moderna vaccine is 90% effective.

This means that fully vaccinated people are between 90% and 95% less likely to develop COVID-19 than unvaccinated people.

In addition, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine trials showed 72% efficacy in the U.S., meaning those who got the one-shot jab are 72% less likely to contract the disease.

When comparing fully vaccinated people who did and did not get sick, the risk is even lower.

The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data show that 10,262 of at least 133 million Americans who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 later contracted the disease.

This translates to 0.00716% of people who have completed their vaccine series have gone on to test positive.

It also represents the true odds of getting COVID-19 after full vaccination: less than 0.01%.

What’s more, fully vaccinated people who test positive have mild illnesses, and are very unlikely to be hospitalized or die.

The CDC states that 99.5% of all deaths occur in unvaccinated people.

That means, if the figure applies to the 3,165 Americans who’ve died in July 2021 so far – as of July 13 – about 3,150 deaths would be among unvaccinated people and 15 deaths among fully vaccinated people.

 

‘Obviously there are steps they have taken. They’re a private sector company,’ she said. 

‘There are additional steps they can take. It’s clear that there are more that can be taken.’ 

She faced repeated questions about how the administration could be sure that today’s facts are not tomorrows falsehoods and vice versa, with journalists citing the example about how statements linking the coronavirus to a lab leak had once been flagged as misinformation, but were now being reevaluated.

The contentious briefing followed the announcement a day earlier that the Biden administration had been flagging problematic posts. 

‘We are in regular touch with the social media platforms and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff and also members of our COVID-19 team — given as [Surgeon General Vivek] Murthy conveyed this is a big issue, of misinformation, specifically on the pandemic,’ Psaki said on Thursday.

The admission triggered Republican condemnation.  

Sen. Josh Hawley accused the White House of imposing a COVID speech code. 

‘I think it’s really scary to have the federal government of the United States, the White House, compiling lists of people, organizations, whatever, and then going to a private company that, by the way, is a monopoly, Facebook, and saying, “You need to censor. You need to do something about this.”‘ he told Fox News. 

Journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote a long Twitter thread condemning the practice. 

‘If you don’t find it deeply disturbing that the White House is “flagging” internet content that they deem “problematic” to their Facebook allies for removal, then you are definitionally [sic] an authoritarian.’

But the impact of unvaccinated populations were spelled during the White House COVID-19 briefing on Friday, which revealed the surge in cases.

‘We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination rates because unvaccinated people are at risk,’ said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who called it a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated.’

The result, she added, was likely to be deaths that could have been prevented. 

‘The good news is that if you are fully vaccinated, you are protected against COVID hospitalization and death and are even protected against the known variants, including the Delta variant circulating in this country,’ she said. 

‘If you are not vaccinated, you remain at risk.’



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