Behind the scenes of the White House, a battle against Facebook over misinformation about vaccines against the Covid virus

Washington – In mid-July, a US President’s commentJoe Biden has put Facebook at the center of the public debate about the rise in Covid-19 cases in the country. The Democratic leader said social media is “killing people” by allowing misinformation about vaccines to be spread on its platforms. It was the culmination of a series of increasingly combative meetings between the White House and the Silicon Valley giant.

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Senior officials from both sides participated in the meetings, people close to Facebook and the US government told the New York Times on condition of anonymity. In March, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called White House Chief of Staff Ron Klein and discussed the misinformation. But the White House was so frustrated with Facebook’s response that at one point it demanded that it speak to the company’s data scientists rather than lobbyists.

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Talks continued between the White House and Facebook. But the split has complicated an already turbulent relationship as Biden faces a setback in the fight against the coronavirus. White House failed in his goal than 70% of American adults had received at least one dose by July 4, and the highly contagious delta variant increased the number of infections.

The US recorded an average of more than 110,000 new cases per day last week, up from about 13,000 the previous month. In response, the government has rescinded some public health recommendations, leaving many Americans confused Requirements such as the return of the use of masks, which was suspended in May.

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The vast majority of new cases occur among unvaccinated people. On Thursday, the White House urged pediatricians to incorporate immunizations into physical exercise and back to school and encouraged schools to host their own immunization clinics. But close cooperation with Facebook, the country’s largest social network, could be crucial to beating widespread hesitation about a vaccine, and eventually the pandemic.

“We’ve engaged with Facebook about this issue since the move, we’ve made it clear to them when they haven’t met our standards or their own, and we’ve actively promoted content on their platforms that misleads the American people,” White House spokesman Mike Gowen said.

Facebook has strongly opposed White House criticism, publicly accusing the government of using the company as a scapegoat for the government’s failure to meet vaccination goals. Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, said the White House did not give the company proper credit for promoting the vaccine. He said the social network has been working with the White House for “many months” to vaccinate people, introducing features such as important links to vaccination clinics.

“We have removed Covid-related content that violates our rules and continue to link to official health information in all Covid-related posts,” Stone said.

Disagreements since the 2020 elections

Biden’s frustration with Facebook started before the pandemic. His team clashed with the company during the presidential campaign over the decision not to verify the content of political ads, particularly after Donald Trump support groups aired material with false allegations about Biden’s interactions with Ukrainian officials. At one point during the campaign, Biden called the company’s CEO a “real problem” and added, “I’ve never been a big fan of Zuckerberg.”

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After the election, Biden’s transition team scheduled meetings with several organizations about Covid-19 disinformation, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest, as well as Fox News and CNN. They asked tech companies to avoid trading false claims about the virus and asked how many “hesitant” people had been exposed to incorrect information on their platforms.

YouTube provided data showing that about 16 out of 10,000 views violated its content rules, though it did not specify how much of the video content was linked to misinformation about Covid-19. Twitter said it had opened its data to researchers and academics to study the spread of disinformation and told the White House it had created a system of “attacks” to better monitor accounts spreading the most disinformation related to the pandemic.

Facebook provided information from its data tracking tool, CrowdTangle, which is used by academics and journalists. But officials, including Brian Rice, the company’s top White House Democratic lobbyist, and Kang Xing-jin, Facebook’s head of health, have sidestepped some requests for more information, people close to the administration said.

When the White House requested data about how often incorrect information was shown and published, the company said it could not provide it. Facebook told the US government that it had content that was not explicitly fake, such as posts that cast doubt on vaccines but did not clearly violate the social network’s rules on inaccurate health information. Facebook allows people to voice their experiences with vaccines, such as pain or side effects after receiving an injection, as long as they don’t explicitly endorse the lies.

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The company also noted that it has conducted research on how many Facebook users in the US have been vaccinated, saying it is using its software to amplify pro-vaccine messages and direct people to vaccination clinics. But for government officials, Facebook was intentionally making things difficult. The employees said that no one understands data about the social network better than Facebook, and they wanted the company to help them direct them to the right questions.

Days after saying social networks like Facebook were “killing people,” Biden softened his tone and negotiations resumed with the help of a former adviser. The two sides agreed on the need to de-escalate the situation.

Biden’s team confirmed at a recent meeting that vaccination efforts have stalled, medical authorities are at risk and deaths may increase without further oversight by the company, people familiar with the matter said. At the end of the meeting, the two sides expressed their gratitude for the frankness and agreed to continue the meeting, but left without any concrete solution.

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