July 16, 2021
-New York Post
President Biden on Friday accused Facebook of “killing people,” just after White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration is “in regular touch” with the platform to ensure correct “narratives” are promoted — elaborating on her Thursday admission that the White House is “flagging problematic posts” to censor.
Biden was asked about his message for platforms like Facebook as he departed the White House on Friday afternoon for a weekend trip to Camp David.
“They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people,” Biden said.
At her daily press briefing, Psaki told reporters that the White House is “regularly” coordinating with Facebook and other social media giants on the “latest narratives dangerous to public health” that the administration thinks should be censored.
“We are 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 said.
“There’s about 12 people who are producing 65 percent of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms,” she said.
Psaki also said the White House is encouraging social media companies to alter their algorithms to promote “quality information” and for platforms to act in unison to ban certain people.
“You shouldn’t be banned from one platform and not others,” she said.
But Psaki added confusion when pressed on the exact mechanism the White House uses to flag Facebook posts it wants to censor.
“We raise for them in our direct channels — of which every administration has always had with every social media platform — that we are seeing this trend that is troubling, that information is inaccurate,” Psaki said.
When asked if she meant the White House was identifying “general areas of misinformation” to censor rather than “specific posts,” Psaki said: “Yes. It is also publicly available who the individuals are who have spread most of the information.”
White House spokespeople did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for clarification on whether the White House is indeed flagging specific posts, as Psaki originally said Thursday.
Facebook, in a statement on Friday, touted its efforts to inform users about COVID-19 and vaccines — saying the president’s comments “aren’t supported by the facts.”
“We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,” a Facebook spokesperson 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.”
At the press briefing, Psaki also was pressed by reporters who noted that science around COVID-19 has evolved and that Facebook previously censored “misinformation” that later gained credibility. Facebook infamously censored until May user posts that claimed the virus may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.
The “lab leak” theory was denounced as a “conspiracy theory” by Democrats and some media outlets last year when it was floated by President Donald Trump. It later gained traction and Biden in May ordered a 90-day spy agency review of the possibility — admitting that one US intelligence agency is leaning toward that explanation.
Psaki conceded Friday that “science evolves, information evolves” — defending Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US government infectious disease expert, who discouraged people from wearing masks early in the pandemic, despite the historical use of masks to prevent the spread of airborne viruses and their successful early adoption in East Asia to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
While urging tech companies to increase censorship on Thursday, Psaki said that the Biden administration has been “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation,” particularly about COVID-19.
“We are in regular touch with the social media platforms and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff and also members of our COVID-19 team — given as [Surgeon General Vivek] Murthy conveyed this is a big issue, of misinformation, specifically on the pandemic,” Psaki said Thursday.
The Constitution’s First Amendment bans the government from “abridging the freedom of speech.”
That provision generally doesn’t apply to private companies, but Trump filed a lawsuit last week against Facebook claiming that it has censored content at the behest of the government, meaning that the First Amendment should apply to content moderation to ensure wide-open political debate.
Trump lawyer John Coale said the litigation would prove that social media companies “are government actors” and that “therefore, the First Amendment does apply” to their actions.