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White House: Facebook and YouTube spreading vaccine misinformation

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
White House press secretary Jen Psaki. (AP file photo)

The White House has blamed Facebook and YouTube for spreading misinformation about COVID vaccines and said the American social media giants are not doing enough to stop it, according to sources familiar with the Biden administration's thinking.

The criticism comes just a week after US President Joe Biden said Facebook and other social media companies are “killing people,” for failing to stop the spread of misinformation about vaccines, Reuters reported on Friday.

"Facebook and YouTube... are the judge, the jury and the executioner when it comes to what is going on in their platforms," a senior Biden administration official said, calling their approach to COVID misinformation. "They get to grade their own homework."

The American social media platforms have been spreading content which suggests that COVID-19 vaccines are ineffective, and allow users to share claims that they carry microchips and that they hurt women's fertility, the official said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy have said the spread of lies on social media about vaccines is making it harder to fight the pandemic and save lives.

A recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) showed a dozen anti-vaccine accounts are spreading nearly two-thirds of anti-vaccine misinformation online. Six of them are still active on YouTube.

"We would like to see more done by everybody" to limit the spread of misinformation from those accounts, the official said.

On July 16, Biden was asked during a press conference at the White House what his message is to social media platforms on the spread of inaccurate information about COVID-19 vaccines.

“They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people,” he said.

Amid the Biden administration’s efforts to get more Americans vaccinated, the US surgeon general issued an advisory last week describing health misinformation as an “urgent threat”.

Murthy blamed "health misinformation" on social media for vaccine hesitancy despite vaccinations being widely available, and called for a whole-of-society effort to combat the misinformation problem.

“Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users,” Murthy told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “They’ve allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation — what we call ‘disinformation’ — to have extraordinary reach.”

Facebook has reacted to the criticism from the White House.

"The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19," Facebook said in a corporate blog post by Guy Rosen, the company's vice president of Integrity.

Rosen accused Biden of making Facebook a scapegoat for his administration’s failure to reach its goal of having 70 percent Americans vaccinated by July 4.

The Facebook VP claimed that the company has deployed “unprecedented resources" in its fight against the pandemic, such as “pointing people to reliable information” and facilitating vaccine appointments.

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