In an about-face on his own condemnation of social media misinformation about COVID-19, President Biden on Monday said, “Facebook isn’t killing people” by hosting false claims.
Biden softened his stance after company executives pushed back on his Friday statement that Facebook is responsible for deaths caused by anti-vaccine sentiment.
“They’re killing people,” Biden told reporters Friday afternoon, when asked about his message for the company. “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people.”
But asked about those comments on Monday, he instead told reporters that he had just read an article claiming that most COVID-19 misinformation comes from 12 people — apparently referring to a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate that identified Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as the most famous member of the “disinformation dozen.”
“I mean precisely what I said,” Biden said Monday, before contradicting his prior remark holding Facebook responsible for deaths.
“I had just read that on Facebook … it was pointed out to Facebook, of all the misinformation, 60 percent of the misinformation came from 12 individuals. That’s what the article said. So I was asked that question about what do I think is happening,” Biden said.
“Facebook isn’t killing people. These 12 people who are out there giving misinformation, anyone listening to it is getting hurt by, it is killing people. It’s bad information.”
Biden added: “My hope is that Facebook instead of taking it personally — that somehow I’m saying Facebook is killing people — that they would do something about the misinformation, the outrageous informant misinformation about the vaccine. That’s what I meant.”
Biden also touted the stock market’s successful year — despite the fact that on Monday morning, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by about 900 points amid fear that vaccines may not head off the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 that is tearing through the UK and largely unvaccinated areas of Missouri and Arkansas.
“The stock market is higher than it has been in all of history … even down this month,” Biden said, adding: “I don’t look at the stock market as a means by which to judge the economy like my predecessor did. But he’d be talking to you every day for the last five months about how the stock market so high, higher than any time in history.”
Biden’s dustup with Facebook came as the White House pressed social media companies to do more to censor anti-vaccine posts. More than 68 percent of US adults have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to CDC data, dramatically lowering infections in most parts of the country. But some regions have notably lower vaccination rates.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki last week said the Biden administration was “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.” But she created confusion when she answered in the affirmative when pressed by a reporter to confirm that the White House is merely identifying “general areas of misinformation” to censor rather than “specific posts.”