Social media must do more to support vaccination, surgeon general says

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Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Sunday dismissed the idea that the Biden administration is looking for a scapegoat and using Facebook misinformation as an excuse for missing its vaccination goals.

“This is about the health of Americans and the reality is that misinformation is still spreading like wildfire in our country, aided and abetted by technology platforms,” Murthy said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I have been in dialogue with a number of technology companies in good faith efforts to express my concerns to them and where they have taken positive steps. And some of them have, I’ve acknowledged that, as we should do, but what I've also said very clearly to them, privately and also publicly, is that it's not enough.”

In an advisory released Thursday, Murthy declared falsehoods and conspiracy theories spreading online as an “urgent threat to public health” that have had an impact on the number of Americans willing to get vaccinated against Covid. Murthy said addressing the spread of misinformation was a major priority for him as surgeon general.

Top Republican lawmakers blasted the surgeon general’s work on misinformation and accused the administration of coordinating with social media companies to censor speech.

President Joe Biden’s shot at the platforms last week, including Facebook, further fueled the fire.

“They’re killing people,” Biden told reporters in response to a question about Facebook. “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they’re killing people.”

Biden had set a goal of getting 70 percent of Americans partially vaccinated by July Fourth, but vaccination efforts in the U.S. have largely hit a wall. Just 68.1 percent of Americans have received at least one dose as of Sunday. Covid cases are rising in all 50 states as the Delta variant spreads, almost exclusively attacking unvaccinated Americans.

Murthy said Sunday that the American government has a role in addressing misinformation and “investing in research” to learn more about how it’s affecting Americans.

Facebook responded to the administration's criticism by saying it had done much to filter out false information about vaccinations and also to paint vaccination in a positive light. On Sunday, the surgeon general said he’s never questioned Facebook's intentions in addressing the spread of falsehoods, but said good intentions alone won’t make a difference.

“Intention is good, but at the end of the day it doesn't save the life of somebody who is misled by misinformation on these sites, who didn't get vaccinated, who got sick and lost their life as a result,” Murthy said. “I'm asking these companies to step up and take responsibility for what's happening on their side. I'm asking them to look out for the people across this country who — whose lives depend on having access to accurate information.”

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