WASHINGTON — Facebook pushed back against the . on Saturday Biden government denounced of the social media giant for spreading misinformation about its Covid-19 vaccines, escalating tensions between the Silicon Valley company and the White House.
In a blog post, Facebook called on the administration to stop “pointing the finger” and explained what it had done to encourage users to get vaccinated. The social network also detailed how it had suppressed lies about the vaccines, which officials have said led people to refuse to be vaccinated.
“The Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social media companies,” Guy Rosen, Facebook vice president of integrity, said in the post. “The fact is that vaccine acceptance has increased among Facebook users in the US.”
Mr Rosen added that the company’s data showed that 85 percent of its users in the United States were or wanted to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. While President Biden had set a goal of having 70 percent of Americans vaccinated by July 4, which: the White House fell short“Facebook is not the reason why this goal was missed,” said Mr Rosen.
Facebook’s response follows a strong condemnation of the company by Mr. Biden. When asked Friday about the role of social media in influencing vaccinations, Mr Biden stated in unusually strong language that the platforms were “killing people”.
“Look,” he added, “the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that — and they’re killing people.”
Other White House officials have also gotten louder about how social media has reinforced the lies about vaccines.
On Thursday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy accused social media companies of not doing enough to stop the spread of dangerous health disinformation. call it a national health crisis which had fueled vaccine hesitancy among Americans. On Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki also exclaimed misinformation “which leads to people not taking the vaccine, and people dying as a result.” She said the White House had a responsibility to raise the issue.
The White House declined to comment on Facebook’s blog post on Saturday.
Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites have long struggled with their role as platforms for speech while protecting their users from disinformation campaigns, such as Russian attempts to influence presidential elections or false statements about the pandemic.
In recent months, Facebook has taken action against vaccine ads and false statements about the vaccines. In October it said it would no longer allow anti-vaccination ads on its platform. In February, the company went ahead and said it would? remove posts with false claims about vaccines, including claims that vaccines cause autism or that it is safer for people to contract the coronavirus than to get the vaccines.
But online misinformation about the vaccines has not been eradicated. Lies have spread that vaccines can change DNA or that the vaccines don’t work.
On Saturday, Mr. Rosen wrote in the blog post that among US Facebook users, vaccine hesitancy had decreased by 50 percent since April and vaccine adoption had increased by 10 to 15 percentage points, or to more than 80 percent from 70 percent.
“While social media plays an important role in society, it is clear that we need a societal approach to end this pandemic,” said Mr Rosen. “And facts — not accusations — should help inform that effort.”
The White House’s frustration with Facebook has grown in recent months, those in the know say. While the Biden administration asked Facebook to share information about the spread of misinformation on the social network, the company refused to cooperate, the people said.
On Friday, Robert Flaherty, the White House digital director, said in a tweet: “I think I have a simple question: How many people have seen misinformation about the Covid vaccine on Facebook?”