Inside the gap between the White House and Facebook over vaccine misinformation

The meetings, which began in December, were attended by Dr. Vivek Murthy, who would later be appointed Surgeon General; DJ Patil, the CTO of Mr. Biden’s transition team; and Rob Flaherty, Biden’s director of digital strategy. They said they wanted to make sure that people who were hesitant to get vaccinated received accurate information about vaccinations.

Officials called on tech companies to prevent the circulation of false statements about the virus. Officials also asked companies how many “fence keepers,” people who were hesitant to get vaccinated, were exposed to misinformation on their sites.

Over the next several weeks, many of the social media companies fought to root out health misinformation. But some shared information that the White House sought.

YouTube presented data showing that around 16 out of 10,000 views violated its content rules, though it did not specify how much video content was linked to Covid-19 misinformation. Twitter said it had opened its data for researchers and academics to study the spread of misinformation on the site, and shared with the White House that it had created a system of “strikes” to improve police accounts that spread the most misinformation. of Covid.

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

When Patil asked for data on how often misinformation was seen and disseminated, the company said it was unable to provide such data. Facebook told White House officials it was dealing with content that was not explicitly false, such as posts that cast doubt on vaccines but did not clearly violate the social media’s rules on health misinformation. Facebook allows people to express their experiences with vaccines, such as pain or side effects after receiving an injection, as long as they do not explicitly endorse the falsehoods.

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