“They are killing people,” President Biden told reporters on Friday. The president was responding to a question about the role of misinformation in fostering distrust of COVID-19 vaccines. With big cities like Los Angeles renewing indoor mask mandates amid growing cases of the new delta variant, the administration is trying to get the message across that vaccines are working to stop the virus’s deadliest advances, but says the misinformation on platforms like Facebook is sowing skepticism.
Several hours later, NBC News reporter Dylan Byers tweeted a response from an anonymous Facebook official, who defended the company’s handling of the pandemic. “We will not be distracted by accusations that are not supported by facts,” the official said. “The fact is, more than 2 billion people have seen credible information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than anywhere else on the internet.”
The official continued: “More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our Vaccine Search Tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period. “
Facebook has faced widespread criticism dating back to at least 2016 for allowing misinformation to flourish on its massive platform. In the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise presidential victory, several reports emerged that Russian hackers, at the urging of Russian President Vladamir Putin, used the Facebook platform as a weapon to spread misinformation to American voters. Much more disturbing for the company was the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which more than 86 million user data was hacked and shared on the Internet. Both scandals underscore Facebook’s massive reach and critics have called for stricter regulation.
On December 9, 2020, 48 attorneys general filed costume against Facebook, calling it an “illegal monopoly.”
“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and crack down on competition, all at the expense of everyday users,” New York State Attorney General James said in a communicated at that time. “Today, we are taking steps to defend the millions of consumers and many small businesses that have been harmed by Facebook’s illegal behavior.”
Critics have argued that Facebook was allowed to grow too large, amassing so much power that it crushed competition as well as Break and just bought rivals like WhatsApp (for $ 19 million) and Instagram (for $ 1 billion).
Now, the coronavirus pandemic has made the Facebook platform an even more in-demand source of critical information. Here’s Shira Ovide at the New York Times:
Load case, a coalition of disinformation researchers found that about half of all retweets related to multiple and widely spread false claims of election interference could be goes back to just 35 Twitter accounts, including those of Mr. Trump and conservative activist Charlie Kirk. A research group recently identified the accounts of a dozen people, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who repeatedly, sometimes for years, promoted discredited information about vaccines or, more recently, false “cures” for Covid-19.
The central question in the debate is whether Facebook is simply a platform, or indeed a publisher, responsible for getting the facts wrong.