Joe Biden‘s top public health official continued on Sunday to criticize social media giants for not doing enough to combat coronavirus misinformation, as he claimed Facebook policies around vaccine information are costing American lives.
‘We know that health misinformation harms people’s health. It costs them their lives,’ Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CNN on Sunday morning. ‘I have seen that as a doctor over the years, as patients have struggled with health misinformation.’
‘And here’s the key thing to remember,’ he added when speaking with State of the Union host Dana Bash, ‘health misinformation takes away our freedom and our power to make decisions for us and for our families. And that’s a problem.’
‘The platforms have to recognize that they have played a major role in the increase in speed and scale with which misinformation is spreading.’
Murthy’s comments come after Facebook officials defended the platform on Saturday when President Biden accused social media misinformation of ‘killing people.’
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy doubled-down on the administration scapegoating the plateauing vaccination rate by saying social media isn’t doing enough to combat misinformation. ‘We know that health misinformation harms people’s health. It costs them their lives,’ Murthy said on Sunday
Vaccination rates in the U.S. have sharply declined since the jab was opened to all adults earlier this year. Minority and poor communities, as well as southern states and more Republican areas, are experiencing heightened hesitancy surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine
On Thursday, Murthy also issued an advisory calling health misinformation an ‘urgent threat.’ He provided a 22-page ‘confronting health information’ pamphlet.
The deflection in blame also follows the administration missing Biden’s July 4 deadline to administer at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to 70 per cent of American adults – and have 160 million fully vaccinated by the mid-summer holiday.
Murthy also defended the administration lifting mask requirements for vaccinated people after receiving criticism for acting too quickly now that case loads are rising in areas where rates are low and other ares where variants are running rampant.
‘What’s driving the rise of infections actually is the Delta variant,’ Murthy asserted.
‘But, with that said, I think the CDC guidance around masks was intended actually to give flexibility to individuals and to localities, recognizing that,’ he explained.
The surgeon general said it’s now in the hands of local governments and private entities to decide how they want to handle certain aspects of dealing with the pandemic moving forward, including if they want to require masks – even for immunized individuals.
‘When you see places like L.A. County and other parts of the country, where you see counties making decisions about masks that may be different from other counties, that’s okay,’ Murthy said. ‘They’re doing that based on what’s happening in their communities, based on vaccination rates and case counts.’
Former President Donald Trump weighed in on the vaccine matter on Sunday, claiming Biden is ‘not doing well at all’ in vaccination mobilization and gaining the trust of Americans.
‘He’s way behind schedule, and people are refusing to take the Vaccine because they don’t trust his Administration, they don’t trust the Election results, and they certainly don’t trust the Fake News, which is refusing to tell the Truth,’ he wrote in a statement.
The vaccination rate has plateaued around the 68 per cent mark in adults. Children under the age of 12 have still not been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration to get the vaccine, which is still under emergency use authorization rather than gotten full approval from the federal agency.
Vivek said while he has praised social media privately for their efforts, he has a message for them: ‘It’s not enough.’
‘We’re still seeing a proliferation of misinformation online,’ he told CNN.
A Facebook vice president defended the platform and lashed out at the administration after Biden used social media as a scapegoat for the decline in vaccination rates.
‘The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19,’ Guy Rosen posted in a lengthy corporate blog post on Saturday.
‘President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.’
‘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. 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.
‘The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the US has increased. These and other facts tell a very different story to the one promoted by the administration in recent days,’ Facebook wrote in a defensive posting.
Still, a source from the Biden administration said Saturday that Biden publicly lambasted the platform after the White House has been asking for ‘months’ for help fighting what it called disinformation, according to Fox News.
President Biden last week accused Facebook of ‘killing people’ by allowing misinformation to circulate on its platform. The social media giant, headed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg (left), hit back on Saturday
The platform defended itself against Biden in a lengthy corporate blog post from Guy Rosen, vice president of integrity at Facebook
Despite its puffed-up statements, Facebook hasn’t done enough to stamp out untruths, the administration official said, according to Fox.
‘They’ve been withholding information on what the rules are, what they have put in place to prevent dangerous misinformation from spreading [and] how they measure whether it’s working,’ the officials said.
The disagreement has bubbled over after the Indian Delta variant has ripped across the world – and now is showing up in U.S. data, as cases rise in many places, even as polls show, many of the unvaccinated believe the negative information that’s circulating about the shots – information the White House says is false.
‘For people in the US on Facebook, vaccine hesitancy has declined by 50%; and they are becoming more accepting of vaccines every day.
‘Since January, vaccine acceptance on the part of Facebook users in the US has increased by 10-15 percentage points (70% → 80-85%) and racial and ethnic disparities in acceptance have shrunk considerably.
‘Increased vaccine acceptance has been seen on and off Facebook, with many leaders throughout the US working to make that happen,’ the posting continued. ‘We employed similar tactics in the UK and Canada, which have similar rates of Facebook usage to the US, and those countries have achieved more than 70% vaccination of eligible populations. This all suggests there’s more than Facebook to the outcome in the US.
‘Since the beginning of the pandemic we have removed over 18 million instances of COVID-19 misinformation,’ Facebook explained.
‘We have also labeled and reduced the visibility of more than 167 million pieces of COVID-19 content debunked by our network of fact-checking partners so fewer people see it and — when they do — they have the full context.’
Tension between the social media platform at the Administration had been brewing.
On Friday, a Facebook official said similar to NBC: ‘In private exchanges the Surgeon General [Vivek Murthy] has praised our work, including our efforts to inform people about COVID-19… The White House is looking for scapegoats for missing their vaccine goals.’
The Biden Administration hoped to have 70 percent of American adults partially vaccinated against COVID by Independence Day – a goal they missed by three percent.
The Commander-in-Chief has voiced his frustration about vaccine misinformation proliferating on social media, saying it is stopping millions of Americans from getting the jab.
Earlier this week, the White House confirmed it had stepped up COVID-19 misinformation tracking as it tried to tackle slowing rates of vaccination.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki explicitly singled out Facebook saying that influential anti-vaxxers ‘remain active’ on the site ‘despite some even being banned on other platforms’.
‘You shouldn’t be banned from one platform and not others for providing misinformation,’ she stated on Thursday.
The following day, President Biden was asked if he had a message for Facebook, to which he responded: ‘They’re killing people. I mean it really. Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people.’
Facebook’s statement in full: ‘Moving Past the Finger Pointing’
Guy Rosen – Facebook’s Vice-President of Integrity
By Guy Rosen, VP of Integrity
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. 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. The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the US has increased. These and other facts tell a very different story to the one promoted by the administration in recent days.
Since April 2020, we’ve been collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University and University of Maryland on a global survey to gather insights about COVID-19 symptoms, testing, vaccination rates and more. This is the largest survey of its kind, with over 70 million total responses, and more than 170,000 responses daily across more than 200 countries and territories. For people in the US on Facebook, vaccine hesitancy has declined by 50%; and they are becoming more accepting of vaccines every day.
Since January, vaccine acceptance on the part of Facebook users in the US has increased by 10-15 percentage points (70% → 80-85%) and racial and ethnic disparities in acceptance have shrunk considerably (some of the populations that had the lowest acceptance in January had the highest increases since). The results of this survey are public and we’ve shared them — alongside other data requested by the administration — with the White House, the CDC and other key partners in the federal government.
The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19. President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.
Graph showing rise in COVID-19 vaccine acceptance in the US
In fact, increased vaccine acceptance has been seen on and off Facebook, with many leaders throughout the US working to make that happen. We employed similar tactics in the UK and Canada, which have similar rates of Facebook usage to the US, and those countries have achieved more than 70% vaccination of eligible populations. This all suggests there’s more than Facebook to the outcome in the US.
Now vaccination efforts are rightly turning to increasing access and availability for harder-to-reach people. That’s why we recently expanded our pop-up vaccine clinics in low-income and underserved communities. To help promote reliable vaccine information to communities with lower access to vaccines, we are using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index. This is a publicly available dataset that crisis and health responders often use to identify communities most likely to need support, as higher vulnerability areas have had lower COVID-19 vaccination coverage.
We have been doing our part in other areas, too:
- Since the pandemic began, more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook. This includes more than 3.3 million Americans using our vaccine finder tool to find out where to get a COVID-19 vaccine and make an appointment to do so.
- More than 50% of people in the US on Facebook have already seen someone use the COVID-19 vaccine profile frames, which we developed in collaboration with the US Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC. From what we have seen, when people see a friend share they have been vaccinated, it increases their perceptions that vaccines are safe.
- We’re continuing to encourage everyone to use these tools to show their friends they’ve been vaccinated. For those who are hesitant, hearing from a friend who’s been vaccinated is undoubtedly more impactful than hearing from a large corporation or the federal government.
And when we see misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, we take action against it.
- Since the beginning of the pandemic we have removed over 18 million instances of COVID-19 misinformation.
- We have also labeled and reduced the visibility of more than 167 million pieces of COVID-19 content debunked by our network of fact-checking partners so fewer people see it and — when they do — they have the full context.
In fact, we’ve already taken action on all eight of the Surgeon General’s recommendations on what tech companies can do to help. And we are continuing to work with health experts to update the list of false claims we remove from our platform. We publish these rules for everyone to read and scrutinize, and we update them regularly as we see new trends emerge.
The Biden Administration is calling for a whole of society approach to this challenge. We agree. As a company, we have devoted unprecedented resources to the fight against the pandemic, pointing people to reliable information and helping them find and schedule vaccinations. And we will continue to do so.
Facebook is blasting back against President Biden after he accused the company of ‘killing people’ by allowing misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine to circulate on its platform
But Facebook is not letting Biden control the narrative, pushing back in a series of statements shared with NBC.
‘We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,’ a spokesperson declared.
‘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.’
A Facebook official then added the scathing claim that Biden was simply looking for scapegoats to explain why he failed to meet his goal to have 70 percent of the country vaccinated.
President Biden claimed the company was ‘killing people’ because it was not properly monitoring or removing misleading posts about the COVID-19 shots
The war of words marks a new development in the relationship between Facebook and the Biden Administration.
The social media company was last year accused of siding with Biden in the run-up to the presidential election after it ‘reduced the distribution’ of a damning New York Post article about Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
The bombshell story featured emails uncovered on Hunter’s laptop which pertained to his dealings with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. The New York Post accused Facebook of censoring the article, but the social media giant claimed it may have been dubiously sourced and needed further fact-checking before it could be widely shared.
For conservatives, the action amplified their belief that Facebook and other Big Tech companies had a strong liberal bias.
But, some liberals have conversely accused Facebook of failing to adequately fact-check conservatives and of allowing Russian disinformation to circulate unabated on the platform.
Back in 2019, Facebook CEO dined with Mark Zuckerberg, however the relationship between the pair subsequently soured.
Trump was been suspended from Facebook following the January 6 riots, and his ban still remains in effect.
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
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
Earlier this week, Jen Psaki said Facebook should currently be doing more to combat misinformation about the vaccine.
A surge in cases, caused by the Indian ‘Delta’ strain of COVID-19, 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 on Thursday.
It followed the announcement a day earlier that the Biden administration had been flagging problematic posts – a move some said was a violation of both privacy and freedom of speech rights.
‘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.
Under fire: Zuckerberg has not personally commented on the harsh criticism the Biden Administration has directed at Facebook, however a company spokesperson has blasted back
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.’
Dan Gainor, of Media Research Center, also ripped into Psaki and the White House by tweeting ‘being anti-vaccine is part of free speech. @PressSec is against freedom.’
John Cooper tweeted an emoji of two red light sirens and said, ‘Jen Psaki says the Biden administration is actively flagging what they deem ‘disinformation’ about the pandemic to Facebook for censoring. What could go wrong??’
Many people have pointed out that the Wuhan lab leak was once considered a laughable, looney conspiracy theory until the last couple months when more evidence came to light that supported this COVID-19 origin theory.
However Psaki has insisted that the Administration is not forcing Facebook to take any posts down.
‘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.’
‘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.’
However, Psaki’s pointed comments about the social media giant gave the American public insight into reported tensions between Facebook and the White House.
A source familiar with the conversations between the Biden administration and Facebook representatives told CNN that White House officials believe Facebook isn’t ‘taking this very seriously, or they are hiding something.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Politico reported that Biden-allied groups – including the Democratic National Committee – planned to fact-check more aggressively.
Part of the plan is working with SMS carriers to dispel misinformation about vaccines sent in text messages or social media messages.
‘When we see deliberate efforts to spread misinformation, we view that as an impediment to the country’s public health and will not shy away from calling that out,’ White House spokesperson Kevin Munoz told Politico.
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.’
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.