Many experts and researchers hoped that when US President Joe Biden accused Facebook of “killing people” by spreading vaccine lies in July, it signaled the start of a White House battle against a flood of misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country.
Six months later, the misinformation flood continues, and organizations fighting harmful information want the White House to do more. COVID- The number of deaths recently reached its highest level in nearly a year, with over 2,600 people dying on average each day. According to studies conducted in the United States, the unvaccinated die at a much higher rate than those who have received jabs and boosters.
According to an analysis of the president’s speeches and remarks since July 16, Biden never publicly accused Facebook or another company by name of spreading misinformation again. According to the analysis, Biden has given 24 speeches on COVID, including townhalls, since he called out Facebook.
According to interviews with 11 White House sources, experts, and researchers who have worked with the Biden administration on this topic, top White House aides believe Biden has few legal options to force social media platforms to comply, and the administration has yet to agree on a strategy to rein in Silicon Valley. Several pieces of legislation aimed at holding social media companies accountable have come to a halt.
According to a Reuters tally of White House records, Biden also did not issue an executive order or proclamation to combat misinformation, as he has nearly three dozen times on other pandemic issues.
As of December, a dozen misinformation super-spreaders identified by the White House and the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) last year still had over 40 accounts with millions of followers on Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook, Alphabet’s YouTube, and other social media companies.
According to a White House official, the administration “has been in regular contact with social media platforms, as well as leaders and media outlets, about the critical importance of ensuring that they do not peddle misinformation.” According to the official, these meetings include discussing the work that such entities are doing to combat harmful information and holding them accountable.
A majority of healthcare workers said vaccine misinformation is “the single most important factor influencing unvaccinated patients’ decision not to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” according to a January survey conducted by the COVID States Project, a U.S. research group attempting to understand why so many Americans do not want to get vaccinated.
According to the survey’s healthcare workers, social media, particularly Facebook, remains one of the most frequently cited sources of misinformation that has a negative impact on patients.
A Meta representative declined to comment, but the company previously stated that it had removed over 24 million pieces of COVID-19 content globally and displayed warnings on over 195 million pieces of COVID-related content on Facebook for violating its policies.
According to a YouTube spokesperson, the company has terminated the channels of several well-known spreaders of vaccine misinformation, and it has removed over 130,000 videos for COVID-19 vaccine misinformation since October 2020.
According to White House sources, experts, and researchers who have worked with the White House on this topic, Biden has no easy legal options because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields social media companies from liability for what users post on their platforms.
“The administration…is far too cozy with tech companies, and there is, of course, institutional resistance at the civil servant level,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, who met with the White House on the issue last year. “It’s a serious issue when you’re trying to legislate and go to war with corporations.”
Tech companies were among the largest contributors to Biden’s election campaign, and former Silicon Valley insiders now hold key positions in the administration.
Two White House sources who worked on the issue last year said Biden backed down due to a lack of legal options and internal White House disagreement over how tough to be on tech companies.