Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly responded to President Joe Biden’s recent criticism of the company’s handling of COVID-19 misinformation. In an interview with The Verge published Thursday, Zuckerberg said Facebook has been a good source of “authoritative information” about the pandemic and shouldn’t be blamed for the spread of bad ideas.
“I think it’s more than 2 billion people around the world, access authoritative information about COVID over the course of the pandemic by putting it at the top of Facebook and Instagram,” Zuckerberg said. “We’ve helped millions of people, including here in the U.S., basically go use our vaccine finder tool to actually go get their vaccine. So I’m quite confident, just looking at the analytics and the net impact, that we’ve been a positive force here.”
Zuckerberg’s comments came after the president said last week that Facebook was “killing people” by allowing bad COVID-19 information to circulate. Biden later walked back his comments on Monday, saying, “Facebook isn’t killing people.”
“My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally that somehow I’m saying Facebook is killing people, that they would do something about the misinformation,” President Biden added. “The outrageous misinformation about the vaccine. That’s what I meant.”
Zuckerberg looked to keep the detente going on Thursday, saying the president ultimately offered “more context” to his initial comment last week. The CEO then said Facebook has actually been a useful tool for its 2.8 billion users to find worthwhile COVID-19 details, and added it’s silly to blame Facebook or other social media platforms for some communities in the U.S. being hesitant to get vaccinated.
The key quote from Zuckerberg:
“In fact, if you look at vaccine acceptance amongst people who use our products, it has increased quite a bit over the last few months. So to the extent that there are pockets of the population for which hesitancy is growing, that hasn’t been the trend of what we’ve seen overall on Facebook. And I also think that broadly, when you’re looking at what’s going on in any given country, it’s useful to look at this from the perspective that Facebook and Instagram and all these tools are widely used in almost every country in the world. So if one country is not reaching its vaccine goal, but other countries that all these same social media tools are in are doing just fine, then I think that that should lead you to conclude that the social media platforms are not the decisive element in terms of what is going on there.”
The Zuckerberg-Biden back-and-forth comes as Facebook’s relationship with Washington, D.C. has been strained. Last month, a judge dismissed the FTC’s antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, saying it was too “vague” and failed to show the company held a social media monopoly — a decision that helped propel Facebook to a $1 trillion market cap. Still, the FTC — which is now led by Big Tech critic Lina Khan, following her recent appointment by Biden — will have an opportunity to amend its case.
But while the Biden administration and Facebook have been trading comments, the two sides have also been working together. Last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration is “regularly” talking to Facebook about the “latest narratives” on COVID-19.