Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has criticized social media companies like Facebook and Twitter for being unable to regulate the spread of coronavirus vaccine misinformation on their respective platforms.
“If they’re giving someone a very big platform to distribute information, they have an obligation to look at the information that’s being distributed,” he said during an interview earlier this week on CNBC’s Squawk Box.
“I do think that they have an affirmative responsibility here, and in some cases, they’re not doing it,” he continued.
Recent poll results released by the Kaiser Family Fund show that 54 percent of Americans either believe in or aren’t able to distinguish whether a common coronavirus vaccine myth is fact or fiction.
“I think the line is (crossed) when you’re putting out information that’s knowingly false,” said Gottlieb, a physician who worked at the FDA under former Presidents Donald Trump and George W. Bush.
“When you’re putting out fake scientific data, fake information in a way that’s highly misleading, that’s clearly a line, and that’s going on, so I think that’s easy to police,” he added.
Misinformation Is Killing People
Last Friday, President Joe Biden contended that social media platforms like Facebook are “killing people” by allowing coronavirus vaccine misinformation to circulate on their sites.
“I mean they really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that’s—they’re killing people,” Biden said.
Similar sentiments were echoed by White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield. “We’re reviewing that, and certainly they should be held accountable,” she said in an interview Tuesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“And I think you’ve heard the president speak very aggressively about this. He understands this is an important piece of the ecosystem,” she continued, adding that “there are conservative outlets who are creating irresponsible content, that are sharing misinformation about the virus that’s getting shared on these platforms.”
In response, Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever said that we “will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts.”
“The fact is that more than two billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet," she said. “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.”
In recent weeks, the new and highly contagious Delta variant has been responsible for rising cases in all fifty states. This particular variant—which was first identified in India—is now estimated to make up 83 percent of all sequenced coronavirus cases in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In early July, it accounted for 50 percent of all cases.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.