Why did President BidenJoe BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit MORE back down?
Why did he walk back his sharp criticism that Facebook is “killing people” with misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine?
Okay, technically Facebook is not killing people.
But it has a central role in spreading lies about vaccinations. Those lies have led people to not get vaccinated and too many of them are getting sick and dying.
Biden can point with authority to a report from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate on the “Disinformation Dozen.”
That list claims 12 people could be responsible for the sharing of 65 percent of all the anti-vaccine lies and confusing messages on social media, while Facebook has done nothing to stop the bleeding on its platform.
Biden can also point to a December 2020 report on COVID misinformation from The Brookings Institution.
“The distortion of facts undermines public health in several important ways: lower vaccine acceptance — resulting from misperceptions about vaccine safety and efficacy — will result in more transmissions and deaths. Weaker adherence to mask-wearing protocols will likely result in the same.”
And the damage goes farther. The Brookings study also found that social media misinformation hurts the economic recovery.
“The economic damage resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic could have been considerably less severe if the public were exposed to less sensational and distorting media,” Brookings reported.
But Facebook fired back at the president’s criticism.
The company’s rebuttal is that accurate information is available on Facebook and “the facts show that Facebook is helping save lives.”
Talk about ‘gaslighting,’ or disorienting people by talking about side issues to distract them from the big truth.
Yes, there is good information on Facebook. But the far bigger fact is the load of bad information on Facebook.
But Biden doesn’t want a fight with Facebook. It is the leading social network, and it also owns the second biggest, Instagram.
So he took a step back.
“Facebook isn't killing people — these 12 people are out there giving misinformation. Anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it. It’s killing people,” Biden said to explain what he meant.
Biden is biting his tongue because his priority is halting a resurgence of COVID-19.
Jen PsakiJen PsakiOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Rocky US alliances as Biden heads to UN assembly Five things to watch as Biden heads to the UN Biden to get COVID-19 booster on camera once fully approved MORE, the White House Press Secretary, said the administration is “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.”
Right-wing media immediately charged the White House with censorship. But the government, Psaki pointed out, is not taking down any messages.
That action is up to Facebook, a private company.
Biden’s action is aimed at protecting the nation’s citizens by calling out deadly misinformation.
That’s not censorship. That is leadership.
But the problem isn’t going away. The New York Times recently profiled Dr. Joseph Mercola, characterizing him as “the chief spreader of coronavirus misinformation online, according to researchers.”
“Over the last decade, Dr. Mercola has built a vast operation to push natural health cures, disseminate anti-vaccination content and profit from all of it, said researchers who have studied his network,” the Times added.
Mercola’s strategy for attracting readers appears to involve stirring doubt with posts that question the safety of vaccines while ignoring evidence of their safety.
The misinformation pushed by Mercola and other demagogues could be partly responsible for the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant because so many people see their posts and refuse to get vaccinated.
The consequence of their misinformation is that the virus continues to infect people and mutate into more threatening strains. And the nation is highly vulnerable to those strains because there is not a large enough group of vaccinated Americans to achieve herd immunity.
Even the conservative Republican governor of the deep red state of Alabama, Kay IveyKay IveyDozens of Republican governors call for meeting with Biden on border surge President Biden's vaccination plan is constitutional — and necessary Teenage Alabama city councilman who voted against mask mandate tests positive for COVID-19 MORE, called out the problem: “It's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down,” she told reporters.
And one big reason those people are not getting vaccinated is misinformation on social media.
Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration 'Highest priority' is to vaccinate the unvaccinated, Fauci says Sunday shows - Boosters in the spotlight MORE, the nation’s top doctor on the virus, is also not backing down from challenging the lies and the platforms where they fester.
He said today’s misinformation on social media would have stopped successful government efforts to wipe out disease in previous generations.
“If we had had the pushback for vaccines the way we're seeing on certain media, I don't think it would've been possible at all to not only eradicate smallpox…we probably would still have polio in this country if we had the kind of false information that's being spread now,” Fauci said on CNN.
The facts back up Fauci and Biden.
Preliminary data from “the last few months” suggests that 99.5 percent of recent U.S. COVID-19 deaths have been among unvaccinated people, according to CDC head Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyFDA panel endorses COVID-19 booster shots for older Americans, rejects widespread use Watch live: White House COVID-19 response team holds briefing The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows MORE.
As of last week, just under 50 percent of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The CDC is now recommending that Americans who are fully vaccinated wear masks in areas of the country with high rates of infection.
It has been over seven months since social media companies banded together to kick former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE off their platforms for spreading political conspiracies and misinformation that led to death at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Now it is up to social media companies to staunch the bleeding of COVID misinformation.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.