During a recent brief interview, a reporter asked President Biden to give a message to social media platforms like Facebook. Biden had only a brief response given the moment during which the question was asked, but it cut right to the core of the pandemic and how it is playing out, with the President stating simply that they’re “killing people.”
Social media platforms spawned a new era of propaganda and misinformation that, unlike in the past, were able to spread so easily that users began to see it with little effort on their own part. A mixture of friends and, increasingly, algorithms surface content that may not be accurate about a variety of topics, fueling everything from conspiracy theories to a vast anti-vax movement.
Criticism of this reality boiled over a few years ago, resulting in major social media platforms scrambling to address the issue through a variety of new rules and preventative measures. Many, however, have criticized these efforts as too little, too late, claiming that the problem, which has had a major impact on society, will be much harder to address going forward.
One such platform is Facebook; the company has taken steps to address misinformation, such as adding warning labels on content that link viewers to details about why the media they’re seeing isn’t accurate and, in some cases, removing content. It’s not hard to find clickbait, propaganda, and misinformation on the platform despite these efforts, and there are no signs of that changing in the near future.
The issue is once again a major talking point because of the pandemic and the consequences we see of the anti-vax movement playing out in real time. Social media platforms have been a hotbed for spreading misinformation and outright lies about vaccinations for years and, as one may expect, this has proven highly problematic for bringing the pandemic to an end.
Though more than half of the US population is now at least partially vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, demand for the vaccine has dropped. States with low vaccination rates are seeing big spikes in COVID-19 cases, while states that have high vaccination rates are experiencing the expected drop in case rates. This has resulted in a new reality: the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
President Biden touched on this topic in a brief statement to a reporter last week:
Reporter: “What’s your message to platforms like Facebook?”
President Biden: “They’re killing people. I mean, really. Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people.”
The President’s statement refers to the role social media platforms have played over the years when it comes to vaccine misinformation. Though major platforms are now addressing anti-vax content, there’s a limit to the crackdown: a video containing false claims may be taken down, for example, but other videos that are crafted to raise doubts about vaccines without making outright claims may remain live.
Amid this, we’ve seen the rise of alternative social media platforms that often market themselves as destinations for “free speech,” something that more often than not means they’re hotbeds for false claims about the pandemic, vaccines, the government, and more. Gettr is the latest example of these alternative platforms, joining others like Parler and Gab that rake in users who have fled major social media sites in light of the growing efforts to quash misinformation.
For it’s part, Facebook appears to be unhappy about getting name-dropped by the President in this context, saying in a statement:
We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts. 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.