President Joe Biden on Monday softened his attack on social-media platforms like Facebook for “killing people” by allowing disinformation about the coronavirus vaccine to spread online.
Following remarks on the economy Monday, Biden was asked to clarify his rebuke of Facebook last week and his suggestion that the platform itself was causing deaths. He told reporters that his earlier remarks were actually in response to a report he had recently seen that indicated a dozen Facebook users had peddled a majority of the false information about coronavirus vaccines that have proliferated on the platform.
“Facebook isn’t killing people,” Biden said Monday.
“These 12 people are out there giving misinformation. Anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it. It is killing people. It’s bad information,” he added.
The revised comments come as his administration has struggled to adequately address vaccine hesitancy among some Americans who are now battling more contagious and particularly dangerous variants of the coronavirus.
Biden added Monday that his hope was that Facebook, instead of taking it personally, would do something about “the outrageous misinformation” about the vaccine.
“That’s what I meant,” he said.
His clarification on Monday was a shift from the tone he took last week, when before boarding Marine One, the president was asked what his message was to social media platforms on COVID-19 disinformation.
“They’re killing people,” he said Friday. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that—and they’re killing people.”
That rebuke came on the heels of a 22-page advisory by the nation’s surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, who on Thursday criticized tech and social media companies who have not done enough to stop the spread of dangerous health information that presents “an urgent threat to public health.”
Facebook rebuffed the president’s accusations last week by defending its efforts to promote authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines.
“We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,” Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for the company said at the time. She added that the social-media giant has made efforts to promote valuable coronavirus guidance that has been viewed by two billion people on the platform.
On Monday, Biden said that his goal was to encourage people to reflect on the dangers of misinformation.
“I’m trying to make people look at themselves, look in the mirror, think about that misinformation going to your son, your daughter, your relative, someone you love,” Biden said. “That’s what I’m asking.”