US President Joe Biden walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House July 16, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
Facebook on Saturday refuted remarks made by President Joe Biden that social media platforms are "killing people" by allowing coronavirus vaccine misinformation on their services and argued that vaccine acceptance among its users has actually risen in the U.S.
In a blog post, Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of integrity, pointed to data suggesting that vaccine hesitancy among U.S. its users has declined by 50%, and 85% of users said they have been or would like to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
"These and other facts tell a very different story to the one promoted by the administration in recent days," Rosen wrote.
Rosen also pointed to the Biden administration's narrowly missed goal to vaccinate 70% of Americans by July 4, arguing that Facebook "is not the reason this goal was missed."
The response from Facebook comes after the president, on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday, was asked what his message was to companies like Facebook with respect to Covid misinformation. In response to the question, Biden responded: "They're killing people."
"I mean they really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that's — they're killing people," the president said, echoing earlier comments from White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Psaki, at a news briefing last week, said the Biden administration was flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread misinformation, including false information that the Covid-19 vaccine causes infertility.
The press secretary urged Facebook and other social media companies to address misinformation, including publicly sharing data regarding the impact of misinformation on their services, promoting quality information sources in their feed algorithm, and taking faster action against harmful posts.
Deaths from Covid-19 are increasing again in the U.S. as the delta variant affects largely unvaccinated pockets of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. is reporting an average of 530,000 vaccinations each day over the past week.
At a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in America, the Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social media companies. While social media plays an important role in society, it is clear that we need a whole of society approach to end this pandemic. And facts — not allegations — should help inform that effort. The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the US has increased. These and other facts tell a very different story to the one promoted by the administration in recent days.
Since April 2020, we've been collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University and University of Maryland on a global survey to gather insights about COVID-19 symptoms, testing, vaccination rates and more. This is the largest survey of its kind, with over 70 million total responses, and more than 170,000 responses daily across more than 200 countries and territories. For people in the US on Facebook, vaccine hesitancy has declined by 50%; and they are becoming more accepting of vaccines every day.
Since January, vaccine acceptance on the part of Facebook users in the US has increased by 10-15 percentage points (70% → 80-85%) and racial and ethnic disparities in acceptance have shrunk considerably (some of the populations that had the lowest acceptance in January had the highest increases since). The results of this survey are public and we've shared them — alongside other data requested by the administration — with the White House, the CDC and other key partners in the federal government.
The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19. President Biden's goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.
In fact, increased vaccine acceptance has been seen on and off Facebook, with many leaders throughout the US working to make that happen. We employed similar tactics in the UK and Canada, which have similar rates of Facebook usage to the US, and those countries have achieved more than 70% vaccination of eligible populations. This all suggests there's more than Facebook to the outcome in the US.
Now vaccination efforts are rightly turning to increasing access and availability for harder-to-reach people. That's why we recently expanded our pop-up vaccine clinics in low-income and underserved communities. To help promote reliable vaccine information to communities with lower access to vaccines, we are using the CDC's Social Vulnerability Index. This is a publicly available dataset that crisis and health responders often use to identify communities most likely to need support, as higher vulnerability areas have had lower COVID-19 vaccination coverage.
We have been doing our part in other areas, too:
- Since the pandemic began, more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook. This includes more than 3.3 million Americans using our vaccine finder tool to find out where to get a COVID-19 vaccine and make an appointment to do so.
- More than 50% of people in the US on Facebook have already seen someone use the COVID-19 vaccine profile frames, which we developed in collaboration with the US Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC. From what we have seen, when people see a friend share they have been vaccinated, it increases their perceptions that vaccines are safe.
- We're continuing to encourage everyone to use these tools to show their friends they've been vaccinated. For those who are hesitant, hearing from a friend who's been vaccinated is undoubtedly more impactful than hearing from a large corporation or the federal government.
And when we see misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, we take action against it.
- Since the beginning of the pandemic we have removed over 18 million instances of COVID-19 misinformation.
- We have also labeled and reduced the visibility of more than 167 million pieces of COVID-19 content debunked by our network of fact-checking partners so fewer people see it and — when they do — they have the full context.
In fact, we've already taken action on all eight of the Surgeon General's recommendations on what tech companies can do to help. And we are continuing to work with health experts to update the list of false claims we remove from our platform. We publish these rules for everyone to read and scrutinize, and we update them regularly as we see new trends emerge.
The Biden Administration is calling for a whole of society approach to this challenge. We agree. As a company, we have devoted unprecedented resources to the fight against the pandemic, pointing people to reliable information and helping them find and schedule vaccinations. And we will continue to do so.
—CNBC's Salvador Rodriguez contributed to this report.