The White House is asking social media companies to clamp down on chatter that deviates from officially distributed COVID-19 information as part of President Biden’s “wartime effort” to vanquish the coronavirus.
A senior administration official tells Reuters that the Biden administration is asking Facebook, Twitter and Google to help prevent anti-vaccine fears from going viral, as distrust of the inoculations emerges as a major barrier in the fight against the deadly virus.
“Disinformation that causes vaccine hesitancy is going to be a huge obstacle to getting everyone vaccinated and there are no larger players in that than the social media platforms,” the White House source told the news agency.
“We are talking to them … so they understand the importance of misinformation and disinformation and how they can get rid of it quickly,” the source added.
The news out of Washington is the first sign that officials are directly engaged with Silicon Valley in censoring social media users; Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain previously said the administration would try to work with major media companies on the issue.
The Democratic administration is specifically pushing to make sure unfavorable material does “not start trending on such platforms and become a broader movement,” like the recent anti-vaccine protests at Dodger Stadium, the source said.
The Los Angeles rally was organized on a Facebook page and briefly blocked access to the mass vaccination site that serves more than 8,000 people a day.
Anti-vaccine activists in the US have seen their footprints grow larger on social media, with accounts attracting nearly 8 million new followers since 2019, according to a July report by the Center for Countering Digital Health.
Social media leaders have vowed to squash anti-vaccine “disinformation” silencing free speech, violating the 1st amendment and Section 230 on their platforms, but the spreading of such content has persisted.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal slammed social media companies Thursday, tweeting: “Each piece of misinformation, each person bullied for getting vaccinated, is a setback in our effort to end this deadly pandemic. Facebook & Twitter have moved far too slowly in responding to this targeted harassment & these dangerous conspiracy theories.”
A Facebook spokeswoman said the social network has offered the White House “any assistance we can provide,” and recently unveiled a policy to remove COVID-19 misinformation and remove pages, groups and accounts that violate the guidelines.”
A Twitter spokesman said the company is “in regular communication with the White House on a number of critical issues including COVID-19 misinformation.”
Alphabet Inc.’s Google did not comment on its political engagement but referred reporters to its company blog on eliminating fake news.
The White House source said Facebook, Twitter and Google “were receptive,” adding, “it is too soon to say whether or not it translates into lessening the spread of misinformation.”