Vaccine Misinformation: Facebook vs US Government
COVID-19 vaccine misinformation has been identified as a key impediment in the US' path to recovery from the pandemic. And it looks like Facebook may be facing another collision with the US government over the role that the platform may or may not be playing in the amplification of misinformation.
Last Friday, US President Joe Biden was asked directly about vaccine misinformation on Facebook, "they're killing people", he responded.
Biden's comment about allowing vaccine conspiracy theories to spread around social media sites such as Facebook came a day after the White House noted that it's been in regular contact with social media platforms to ensure that they remain knowledgeable of the newest narratives which pose danger to public health.
“We work to engage with them to better understand the enforcement of social media platform policy.” White House secretary Jen Psaki said.
Through a spokesperson telling ABC News that they "will not be distracted by accusations which aren't supported by the facts" Facebook immediately went on offensive and responded to Biden's remarks.
In a post titled "Moving Past the Finger Pointing" Facebook followed up their statement with another official response today.
"At a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in America, the Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social media companies. While social media plays an important role in society, it is clear that we need a whole of society approach to end this pandemic. And facts - not allegations - should help inform that effort. The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the US has increased. These and other facts tell a very different story to the one promoted by the administration in recent days."
Based on academic research, there's currently no definitive link between increased vaccine hesitancy and Facebook sharing. There's no any direct connection between Facebook usage and political polarization despite ongoing claims as well.
"All social media platforms, including but not limited to ours, reflect what is happening in society and what’s on people’s minds at any given moment. This includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. For example, in the weeks leading up to the World Cup, posts about soccer will naturally increase – not because we have programmed our algorithms to show people content about soccer but because that’s what people are thinking about. And just like politics, soccer strikes a deep emotional chord with people. How they react – the good, the bad, and the ugly – will be reflected on social media." Facebook added.
Nick Clegg, Facebook's Vice President of Global Affairs took a similarly looking angle back in March. He has also noted that Facebook actively reduces the distribution of sensational and misleading content, as well as posts that are found to be false by its independent fact-checking partners.
Facebook has also taken proactive approaches in dismissing ideas of polarization and extremist contents as it is actually bad for their business despite the suggestion that they benefit from the related engagements with such posts. Thus, they go out its way to penalize these posts.
Both parties may not have evidences supporting their sides, but it is right for the US government to take actions and a closer look at this element as it concerns the whole nation itself