Biden: I didn't mean to say that Facebook is killing people

Of course it’s not killing people. It’s merely exposing them to false information that’ll lead them to make themselves vulnerable to a disease that might kill them.

Big difference morally. Well, legally, at least.

Gosh, it sure sounded like Biden was accusing Facebook of killing people on Friday:

The company was pissed off, probably for a variety of reasons:

They’ve expunged various forms of anti-vax misinformation throughout the pandemic; their reward for it was essentially being called murderers by the president. I’m sure they also resented Jen Psaki for telling the country that the White House has been leaning on the company privately to crack down on major anti-vax accounts. That’s destined to alienate some conservative Facebook users, who won’t want to participate on a site which they fear is doing Democrats’ bidding. And it’ll encourage Republican politicians in their new crusade against Big Tech. It’s easier to rally the base against a platform that appears to be in Biden’s pocket on an issue that matters to righty populists, like resisting vaccination.

Facebook wasn’t done with Biden with the statement above. Their “VP of Integrity” published a longer statement on Saturday pointing out all the good the company’s done to promote the vaccines:

Since January, vaccine acceptance on the part of Facebook users in the US has increased by 10-15 percentage points (70% → 80-85%) and racial and ethnic disparities in acceptance have shrunk considerably (some of the populations that had the lowest acceptance in January had the highest increases since). The results of this survey are public and we’ve shared them — alongside other data requested by the administration — with the White House, the CDC and other key partners in the federal government.

The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19. President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed

Since the pandemic began, more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook. This includes more than 3.3 million Americans using our vaccine finder tool to find out where to get a COVID-19 vaccine and make an appointment to do so.

They claim they’ve reduced the visibility of 167 million pieces of disinformation on COVID since the start of the pandemic and have entirely removed another 18 million instances. Does that cut for or against worrying about the White House pressuring them to remove more? On the one hand, it’s not like Team Biden is foisting a policy on Facebook that the company doesn’t agree with. They’ve already been moderating anti-vax content aggressively.

On the other hand, if they’re moderating it aggressively, why should they bow to the White House on removing certain accounts that they haven’t had cause to ban yet?

Biden walked back his comments about Facebook today at a press briefing, insisting that he didn’t mean the company was killing people, just the anti-vaxxers who are using the platform to spread lies:

I’m curious to know why he retreated. Did the company threaten not to cooperate with the feds on other matters if the scapegoating continued? Who knows what sort of user information they’re routinely turning over to law enforcement or intelligence bureaus as part of criminal or counterterror investigations. If the DOJ suddenly had to get a subpoena for everything it wanted from Big Tech, that might gum up the works considerably.

Just speculating, of course. But the fact that Biden was contrite for demagoging them implies that the feds aren’t coercing the company on policing anti-vaxxers behind the scenes. If they were, it’d be Facebook sounding contrite and Biden sounding angry, no?

I can’t find an embeddable video but it’s worth your time to go watch Hot Air alumna Mary Katharine Ham face off with Paul Begala over Biden and Facebook last Friday night on CNN. Begala is sanguine about the thought of the White House leaning on a private company to remove content: “I don’t have the right to use free speech to say that Anderson Cooper shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, right? There are limits to speech.” Right, but lying about a specific individual to damage his reputation and cost him financially is a traditional limit on speech. That’s defamation, a civil action by one private entity against another. What Begala’s contemplating is a mandate for the government to target false information of any stripe by coercing private proxies into redacting it, a dangerous degree of authority. And Biden played into that, notes Ham, by initially accusing Facebook (or the anti-vaxxers on Facebook) of “killing” people. The more one equates speech with violent conduct, the easier it is to justify regulating it. Which is why progressives do it routinely, of course.