Biden tries to clarify comment that Facebook is 'killing people'

"We're not in a war or a battle with Facebook," Jen Psaki said Monday.

July 19, 2021, 2:02 PM

Days after Facebook publicly rejected President Joe Biden's message to the platform that it's "killing people" by allowing the spread of vaccine misinformation, even as COVID-19 infections rise and vaccinations fall around the U.S., he tried to clean up his comment about the social media giant Monday, saying he hopes Facebook doesn't take it "personally."

Following remarks on the economy at the White House, a reporter asked about his comment Friday to companies and platforms like Facebook, the president interjected to answer before the reporter could finish.

"Let me say what I said. I'm glad you asked that question," Biden began. "It was pointed out that Facebook, of all the misinformation, 60% of the misinformation came from 12 individuals. That's what the article said."

Biden was referring to research the White House pointed to at a press briefing last week when Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned in his first advisory of the Biden administration of the threat of misinformation to public health.

President Joe Biden speaks about the economy and his infrastructure agenda in the State Dining Room of the White House, in Washington, July 19th, 2021.
Andrew Harnik/AP

Biden continued on Monday by retracing his steps, saying, "I was asked that question about what do I think is happening."

"Facebook isn't killing people. These 12 people are out there giving misinformation, anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it. It's killing people. It's bad information," Biden continued. "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 -- the outrageous misinformation -- about the vaccine. That's what I meant."

When pressed if he felt the social media company was doing enough to combat the misinformation, the president said he was unsure, because he wasn't sure what action they had taken over the weekend.

President Joe Biden speaks about the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., July 19, 2021.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

He then sidestepped when asked how he would hold the company accountable, he replied, "When you say hold accountable, I'm not trying to hold people accountable. I'm trying to make people look at themselves. Look in the mirror. Think about that misinformation going to your son, daughter, your relative, someone you love. That's all I'm asking."

Biden was attempting to clean up an answer he gave when leaving the White House for Camp David on Friday afternoon when he was specifically asked, "On COVID misinformation, what's your message to platforms like Facebook?" and said, "They're killing people. I mean, it really -- look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they're killing people."

The controversial comment came one day after the surgeon general put out a new advisory arguing that misinformation, particularly on social media websites like Facebook, has hindered vaccination efforts, sown mistrust, caused people to reject public health measures, use unproven treatments, prolonged the pandemic and put lives at risk.

President Joe Biden talks to the media as he departs for a weekend visit to Camp David from the White House in Washington, D.C., July 16, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

"Simply put, health misinformation has cost us lives," Murthy said from the White House last week.

Facebook took issue with the description by the president on Friday, saying in a statement that his claim was not true.

"We will not be distracted by accusations which aren't supported by the facts," Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever said in a statement to ABC News. "The fact is that more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. 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."

However, while Facebook has said how many people have viewed authoritative information on vaccines, the platform has not said how many users have viewed misinformation.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, asked whether the administration is considering any legal moves to regulate misinformation on platforms like Facebook, also made an attempt to calm the feud on Monday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, July 19, 2021.
Susan Walsh/AP

"Well, I don't think we've taken any options off the table. That's up to Congress to determine how they want to proceed moving forward, but let me just note that we're not in a war or a battle with Facebook," Psaki said.

"We're in a battle with the virus and the problem we're seeing -- that our surgeon general elevated just last week -- is that disinformation traveling through a range of mediums. Some of them are a range of social media platforms, some of them are media, some of them are through the mouths of public officials. That bad information, inaccurate information about vaccines, is killing people," she said.

ABC News' Molly Nagle and Sasha Pezenik contributed to this report.

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