White House accuses Facebook and YouTube of spreading misinformation about vaccines


WASHINGTON, July 23 (Reuters) – The White House has YouTube, not just Facebook, on its list of social media platforms, officials said to an alarming spread of misinformation about COVID vaccines and are not doing enough for it. stop, according to sources close to said the thought of the administration.

The criticism comes just a week after President Joe Biden called Facebook and other social media companies “killers” for failing to slow the spread of vaccine misinformation. He has since softened his tone.

A senior administration official said one of the key issues was “inconsistent enforcement”. YouTube – a Google unit of Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) – and Facebook decide what is considered disinformation on their platforms. But the results left the White House unhappy.

“Facebook and YouTube (…) are the judge, the jury and the executioner when it comes to what’s going on on their platforms,” said an administration official, describing their approach to COVID disinformation. “They can mark their own homework.”

Some of the main pieces of misinformation about the vaccines that the Biden administration is battling include that COVID-19 vaccines are ineffective, false claims that they carry microchips, and that they are damaging women’s fertility, the government said. responsible.

Social media companies have recently come under fire from Biden, his press secretary Jen Psaki and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, all of whom said the spread of vaccine lies made it harder to fight the pandemic and the rescue of lives.

A recent report from Center for the fight against digital hatred (CCDH), which was also highlighted by the White House, showed that 12 anti-vaccine accounts disseminate nearly two-thirds of anti-vaccine misinformation online. Six of those accounts are still posted on YouTube.

“We would like everyone to do more” to limit the dissemination of inaccurate information from these accounts, the official said.

Tackling vaccine misinformation has become a top priority for the Biden administration at a time when the pace of vaccinations has slowed dramatically despite the risk posed by the Delta variant, with people in many parts of the country hostile to the disease. vaccination.

The requests to Facebook and YouTube come after the White House contacted Facebook, Twitter (TWTR.N) and Google in February to tackle COVID disinformation, asking for their help in preventing it from going viral, another then said. senior administration official.

“Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to vaccine misinformation… but Google has a lot to answer for and always manages to get away with it because people forget they own YouTube,” Imran said. Ahmed, CCDH founder and managing director.

YouTube spokeswoman Elena Hernandez said that since March 2020, the company has removed more than 900,000 videos containing disinformation about COVID-19 and terminated the YouTube channels of people identified in the CCDH report. She said company policies are based on the content of the video rather than the speaker.

“If any remaining channels mentioned in the report violate our policies, we will take action, including permanent layoffs,” she said.

YouTube also announced on Monday that it would add more credible health information as well as tabs viewers could click.

The senior administration official cited four issues on which the administration asked Facebook to provide specific data, but the company has been reluctant to comply.

These include the amount of vaccine misinformation that exists on its platform, which sees inaccurate claims, what the company does to contact them, and how does Facebook know the actions it is taking are working. .

The official said the responses Facebook gave were not “good enough”.

Facebook spokesman Kevin McAlister said the company had removed more than 18 million misinformation about COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and that its own data showed that for people using the platform form in the United States, vaccine reluctance had fallen by 50% since January. and vaccine acceptance is high.

In a separate blog post last Saturday, Facebook called on the administration to stop “pointing fingers”, outlining the steps it had taken to encourage users to get vaccinated.

But the administration official said the blog post had no measure of success.

The big concern of the Biden administration is that the platforms “lie to us and hide the ball, or that they don’t take it seriously and that there is no in-depth analysis of what is going on. on their platforms, ”the official said.

“It calls into question all the solutions they have.”

Reporting by Nandita Bose; Editing by Chris Sanders and Dan Grebler

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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