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July 26, 2021updated 30 Jul 2021 3:56pm

Social giants ‘grade their own homework’ on Covid vaccine misinformation – White House

By Robert Scammell

White House officials believe that social media platforms Facebook and YouTube are not doing enough to stop the spread of Covid-19 vaccine misinformation, according to a Reuters report.

One White House official told the news wire: “Facebook and YouTube… are the judge, the jury and the executioner when it comes to what is going on in their platforms. They get to grade their own homework.”

They added that there is “inconsistent enforcement” that is allowing vaccine misinformation to spread.

White House officials have become increasingly critical of social media companies in recent weeks, appearing to blame them for slowing vaccination rates in the US. The daily vaccination rate is now far lower than April when the US was among the fastest distributors globally.

It prompted comments by US President Joe Biden last week that Facebook was “killing people” by allowing Covid-19 vaccine misinformation to spread on its platform.

The president later clarified his comments. According to Biden, there are a dozen accounts on Facebook which are spreading most of the misinformation that is causing harm, citing a Center for Countering Digital Hate report from March that identified 12 “superspreader” accounts.

Six of these accounts are still operating on YouTube, which is owned by tech giant Google.

Facebook then published a response in which it said it is “not the reason” for the Biden administration missing its goal of vaccinating 70% of Americans by 4 July. Facebook claimed that its data shows 85% of its US users “have been or want to be vaccinated against Covid-19”.

As a GlobaData report on misinformation states, the Covid-19 pandemic has been “fertile ground for fake news and the exploitation of public fear.”

Misinformation posted on social media includes false claims that Covid-19 vaccines contain location tracking microchips.

Experts have long criticised social media companies for not doing enough to rid their platforms of misinformation, but the pandemic has brought it firmly into the public health debate.

One expert believes users should not always depend on social media firms to solve the problem.

“Companies like Facebook have processes in place and indicators of where something has come from, but people should always try to find news at its source,” Rachel Roumeliotis, vice president of data and AI at O’Reilly, recently told Verdict. “If it does seem outlandish or strange, cross-reference it with another trusted news source to weigh its validity.”

A YouTube spokesperson said the company has removed over 900,000 Covid-19 misinformation videos since March 2020.

Facebook said it has removed over 18 million pieces of Covid-19 misinformation since the start of the pandemic.

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