Facebook fights Biden claim that social media is 'killing people' through anti-vax, COVID-19 misinformation spread

Facebook says it is time to move past "finger pointing."

Facebook has addressed comments made by US President Biden over social media and the spread of fake COVID-19 information, saying it is time to move past "finger pointing."

Since the start of the pandemic, social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook have become melting pots of coronavirus-related misinformation, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories, some of which may have increased vaccine hesitancy in some groups. 

Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other tech giants have been fighting the spread. 

On Friday, Biden was asked by a reporter what his message would be to social media platforms, like Facebook, in light of COVID-19 misinformation and anti-vaccination content. 

In a blunt fashion, Biden said, "they're killing people."

"I mean, they're really -- look -- the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated," Biden said. "And they're killing people."

On July 17, Facebook published a blog post responding to these accusations, penned by Guy Rosen, Facebook 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," Rosen said. "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."

According to reports, vaccine hesitancy remains high in some US states at a time when the Delta variant is thought to be behind a spike in cases in areas including Florida.

However, Facebook says that hesitancy in its US user base continues to decline, and 85% of Facebook users in the country either have had or want a COVID-19 vaccine. 

"President Biden's goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4," the company says. "Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed. In fact, increased vaccine acceptance has been seen on and off Facebook, with many leaders throughout the US working to make that happen."

The social media giant has published a set of rules for content relating to COVID-19 and vaccines. For example, the company prohibits posts designed for the "active and deliberate spread of communicable diseases," meet-ups encouraging participants who have COVID-19 or organized in order to disrupt vaccination programs, and content that denies the existence or severity of the disease.  

Facebook says that since the start of the pandemic, over 18 million "instances" of COVID-19 misinformation have been removed, and over 167 million pieces of content have been labeled by fact-checkers as fake or potentially misleading. 

"The Biden Administration is calling for a whole of society approach to this challenge," Rosen added. "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."

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