Facebook pushes back against White House criticism

Facebook has levied additional criticism against President BidenJoe BidenTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden on hecklers: 'This is not a Trump rally. Let 'em holler' MORE and top administration officials over remarks that social media companies are not doing enough to combat coronavirus vaccine misinformation, accusing the White House of “looking for scapegoats for missing their vaccine goals.”

The public fight between the administration and social media companies escalated after Biden told reporters on Friday that Facebook and other platforms were “killing people" by allowing vaccine misinformation to spread.

A Facebook spokesperson initially pushed back against the White House in a statement, saying, "We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts."

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Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said, "The fact is that more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine."

"The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period," Lever added. 

In a statement issued later Friday, a Facebook official who spoke to NBC News on the condition of anonymity said the company engaged in “private exchanges” with Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek MurthyBiden walks fine line with Fox News If you care about the First Amendment, this class action is for you COVID-19 misinformation is a public health hazard — we need to start treating it as such MORE in which the administration official “praised our work, including our efforts to inform people about COVID-19.” 

“They knew what they were doing,” the Facebook official added. “The White House is looking for scapegoats for missing their vaccine goals.”

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The Hill has reached out to Murthy’s office for comment. 

The reported conversations with Murthy come after the surgeon general on Thursday issued an advisory labeling health misinformation an “urgent threat” to the Biden administration’s efforts to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations across the country. 

The advisory specifically called on tech and social media companies to do more to combat online misinformation, which the surgeon general said “can cause confusion, sow distrust, and undermine public health efforts, including our ongoing work to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Concerns about false information regarding the safety and efficacy of the vaccines have increased in recent weeks, especially as new infections, due in part to the highly transmissible delta variant, have surged in American communities with relatively low vaccination rates. 

The U.S. earlier this month failed to meet Biden’s goal to have at least 70 percent of U.S. adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4. 

As of Friday, 68 percent of American adults ages 18 and older have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, with roughly 59 percent fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.