‘They’re killing people’: Biden hits out at COVID disinformation online as vaccine uptake slows

Misleading information about vaccines and COVID-19 on online platforms like Facebook is killing people, Joe Biden has said.

Speaking to reporters as he left the White House on Friday afternoon, the US president was asked if he had a message to platforms like the social media giant regarding the misleading or incorrect information that frequently appears on them about the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Biden responded: “They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they’re killing people.”

Facebook has been accused of spreading misinformation about COVID vaccines
Image:Facebook has been accused of allowing misinformation to spread about COVID vaccines

On Thursday, a 22-page document from the US surgeon general called health-related misinformation a “serious public threat” and said a nationwide response was required.

Mirroring what is happening in the UK, COVID cases have tripled in the US over the past three weeks – and the number of people admitted to hospital and dying from it is rising, particularly among unvaccinated people.

Officials in the US are worried by the trend and what they consider to be needless illness and death. And, also as in the UK, cases are expected to continue to rise in the coming weeks.

In the US, the rising numbers are being driven by infection among the more than 90 million eligible Americans who have yet to get their jabs.

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In many cases this is localised, depending on the uptake rates in specific areas. Four states with low vaccination rates made up 40% of new cases last week.

Aiming to boost uptake among young people, the White House has teamed up with the former Disney Channel star Olivia Rodrigo to encourage them to get vaccinated.

The 18-year-old singer met Mr Biden and his chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci this week to film videos for the White House’s social media channels and her own. She has more than 14 million followers on Instagram alone.

had the honor of speaking with @POTUS today about the importance of young people getting vaccinated! check out https://t.co/r4TnB8gx3b to learn more about vaccines and to find a vaccination center near you! it’s easy, free, and so important!!! pic.twitter.com/rnM2UtRfeb

— Olivia Rodrigo (@Olivia_Rodrigo) July 15, 2021

Researchers and politicians have repeatedly accused social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp of failing to clamp down on incorrect or misleading posts on its platforms, particularly during the pandemic.

But Facebook points out it has introduced rules against making false claims about COVID-19 and vaccines.

Facebook spokesman Kevin McAlister said on Friday: “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.”

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Worldwide COVID figures

Worldwide COVID figures

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The US’s uptick in COVID is some way behind that of the UK, where rates have doubled in the last fortnight.

And despite two thirds of the population now having been double jabbed, fewer than 40% of the under-40s have had a single jab, according to the latest vaccine surveillance report. First jab uptake rates are also slowing.

Meanwhile, the latest NHS England figures show that by far the largest group of people in the UK to be hospitalised is those aged under 54 (52% of those admitted in the week up to 7 July, the latest date for which figures are available).

But whilst England gets ready to drop legally-enforced coronavirus restrictions on Monday, some states in America are re-imposing rules. Counties in California are among those again requiring everyone to wear masks while out in public, even if they’ve been fully vaccinated.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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