After the Biden administration called on Facebook to ramp up censorship efforts, Facebook fought back Saturday against the White House, declaring that it already censors Americans on the site over vaccine "misinformation."
"When we see misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, we take action against it," the tech giant wrote.
The Facebook press release, titled "Moving Past the Finger Pointing" and penned by the company's "VP of Integrity," gloats that the Big Tech company already takes action against "misinformation" surrounding COVID-19 vaccines.
Since the beginning of the public health crisis, Facebook says it has removed over 18 million instances of "COVID-19 misinformation." Facebook cites that it has also labeled and reduced the visibility of more than 167 million pieces of COVID-19 content "debunked" by its network of fact-checking partners so fewer users see the material, and in the instance that users 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," Facebook applauds itself. "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."
Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued an advisory on Thursday urging tech companies to "impose clear consequences for accounts that repeatedly violate platform policies." The White House then prodded Silicon Valley corporations to crack down harder on social media users with "fact-checks" on "misinformation."
Since the pandemic began, more than 2 billion people have viewed "authoritative information" about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, the Facebook press release says, which includes over 3.3 million Americans using its vaccine finder tool to find out where to make an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
More than 50 percent of Americans on Facebook have already seen someone use the COVID-19 vaccine profile frames, which the company developed in collaboration with the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Facebook claims that when the site's users see a friend share that they've been vaccinated, "it increases their perceptions that vaccines are safe." The social media company says it is continuing to "encourage" everyone to use the site's tools to show other Facebook 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," the company admits.
"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," the press release reads. "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."
Biden said Friday that social media platforms such as Facebook are "killing people" and the "only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated."
The company notes that since April 2020, it has been collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University and University of Maryland on a global survey to gather insights about COVID-19 symptoms, testing, and vaccination rates. The poll is the largest survey of its kind, Facebook touts, with over 70 million total responses, and more than 170,000 responses per day across more than 200 countries and territories.
Vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the United States increased by 10 to 15 percentage points, which the company says helps to tell "a very different story to the one promoted by the administration in recent days." Vaccine hesitancy has declined by 50 percent among Americans who use Facebook, the release adds.
Increased vaccine acceptance has been seen on and off Facebook, the press release continues, with many leaders throughout America "working to make that happen." Facebook says it employed similar tactics in the United Kingdom and Canada, which have similar rates of Facebook usage to the United States.
However, "those countries have achieved more than 70% vaccination of eligible populations," Facebook counters in the press release. "This all suggests there's more than Facebook to the outcome in the US."
The survey's data shows that 85 percent of Facebook users in the United States have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19. President Joe Biden's goal was for 70 percent of adult Americans to be vaccinated with at least one dose by July 4. "Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed," the press release fires back.
Racial and ethnic disparities regarding vaccine acceptance have also shrunk, which some of the populations that had the lowest acceptance in January had the highest increases since, Facebook cites. The results of the survey are public and have been shared "alongside other data requested by the administration" with the White House, the CDC, and other key figures part the federal government.
Facebook states that now vaccination efforts are "rightly turning" to increasing access and availability for harder-to-reach people. That's why Facebook has expanded its pop-up vaccine clinics in low-income and underserved communities. To "promote reliable vaccine information to communities with lower access to vaccines," Facebook is using the CDC's Social Vulnerability Index, determined by a number of factors, including poverty, lack of access to transportation, and crowded housing that "may weaken a community's ability to prevent human suffering and financial loss in a disaster."
The dataset is often used by crisis and health responders to identify communities in need of support as higher vulnerability areas have had lower COVID-19 vaccination coverage, Facebook writes.
"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," Facebook concludes in the press release.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki doubled-down on the ask to social media companies at a briefing on Friday where she addressed the administration's plan to monitor and censor Americans on social media. Psaki signaled it's fine to censor Americans since the Biden administration is already "in touch" with the media in a similar way.
After she made comments Thursday about flagging Facebook posts on COVID-19 vaccine "misinformation," Psaki confirmed that the Biden administration is "regularly making sure social media platforms are aware of the latest narratives dangerous to public health that we and many other Americans are seeing across all of social and traditional media." Psaki called the censorship effort "constructive for the public health of the country" and about "the right of the public to know."
Real Clear Politics White House correspondent Philip Wegmann then asked Psaki at the White House press conference if Facebook has been as proactive as the Biden administration would like in terms of flagging the outlined content. Psaki emphasized that it is the shared responsibility of members of the media, American citizens, civic leaders, and trusted voices around the country, including social media sites as sources of news and information for the general public.
Psaki urged Facebook to measure and share "the impact of misinformation" on the site and the audience its reaching and called on purported free speech forums to create "robust enforcement strategies" that bridge properties and provide transparency about community guidelines. "You shouldn't be banned from one platform and not others for providing misinformation out there," Psaki elucidated.
She also called on social media platforms to take faster action to take down "harmful posts," because information travels quickly. "If it's up there for days and days and days, when people see it, it's hard to put that in a box," Psaki said, then joking about algorithms. "And of course promoting quality information...'
"We've increased disinformation research and tracking within the Surgeon General's office," Psaki stated on Thursday. "We're flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation. We're working with doctors and medical professionals to connect two connected medical experts who are popular with their audiences with accurate information and boost trusted content."