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Biden says Facebook is “killing people” as vaccine misinformation proliferates

The U.S. started its vaccination campaign promisingly, but the country is now falling behind other developed nations.

Biden says Facebook is “killing people” as vaccine misinformation proliferates
[Source images: Giorgio Trovato/Unsplash; Liubov Khutter-Kukkonin/iStock]
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As other developed countries push ahead in their COVID-19 vaccination drives, President Biden showed exasperation Friday with social media platforms, including Facebook, that are allowing mis- and disinformation to spread. “They’re killing people,” he told reporters.

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The FWIW newsletter, which tracks digital trends, released Friday a list of the most engaged-with COVID-19 vaccine posts on Facebook over the past month. Of the 15 top posts, only 3 were classified as being “positive” messages: from the president himself (in 9th place), Vice President Harris (10th), and actor Hugh Jackman (3rd).

The rest were categorized as negative or neutral in tone. The top spot (with 380,000 engagements) was occupied by pro-Trump commentator Candace Owens, who appeared twice more in the top ten. In her most engaged-with post, Owens claimed that employers were forcing employees to get the vaccine, and advised her followers that rather than quit, they wait to be fired and then take legal action. Conservative hosts Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson also featured on the list. In second place was ABC News Tonight, which ran a story on a rare risk of heart inflammation from the vaccine (though the report did say that the benefits of the shot far outweigh the risks).

Commenting on such misinformation, the president said that social media companies were responsible for deaths. He added: “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated.”

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In a press conference earlier in the day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House was working with social media companies to make sure they’re aware of the false narratives circulating on their sites. “We want to know that the social media platforms are taking steps to address it,” she said. “Information travels quite quickly. If it’s up there for days and days and days, when people see it, it’s hard to put that back in a box.”

In a statement, Facebook responded to the discussions: “We’ve partnered with government experts, health authorities, and researchers to take aggressive action against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines to protect public health.”

Meanwhile, several developed nations have surpassed the U.S. in their rates of people vaccinated with at least one dose. In the U.S., currently 56% of people have received at least one dose. Italy is now at 60%, Spain at 61%, and Portugal at 62%. The Netherlands, Belgium, and the U.K., are at 66%, 67%, and 68% respectively. And, Canada, now at 70%, is soon due to overtake the U.S. in fully vaccinated people as well.

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In an effort to combat false narratives with its own digital campaign, the White House this week hosted Gen Z pop favorite Olivia Rodrigo, who helped to encourage young people to get vaccinated. A series of videos with Biden, Harris, and Dr. Fauci, published by the White House on Instagram, are already the top-four most engaged-with posts about the vaccine on that platform in the past 30 days, according to FWIW.