Why Biden Administration & Big Tech Have Only Themselves to Blame for Spread of COVID Misinformation
16:00 GMT 19.07.2021 (Updated: 13:20 GMT 06.08.2022)
The Biden administration is ramping up pressure on Big Tech over the need to curb the "spread of COVID misinformation". However, some conservative and independent commentators believe that the government "colluded" with IT firms to suppress free speech, suggesting that Team Biden has sown more confusion about COVID than anyone else.
Joe Biden crossed swords with Big Tech late last week over COVID "misinformation", accusing Facebook and other media networks of "killing people" when they failed to stem the tide of online anti-vaxxers hostile to coronavirus vaccines.
Facebook retorted to the president's allegations: "The data shows that 85 percent of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19. President Biden’s goal was for 70 percent of Americans to be vaccinated by 4 July. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed."
Biden Trying to Twist Silicon Valley Giants' Arms
"President Biden has made a more direct connection between Facebook and perpetuating misinformation than any other president, and while his comments are overstating the case, so is Facebook’s retort," says Tama Leaver, professor of Internet studies at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. "By itself, Facebook does not save lives, nor does Facebook kill people by itself."
Still, Facebook is one of the world's largest social networks and it's not doing enough for curtailing the spread of misinformation, the professor argues, citing Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. On 18 July, Murthy called upon Big Tech "to step up and take responsibility for what’s happening on their sides."
"Facebook has made changes, but there’s a lot more to do, and it’s clear the current US administration is going to push hard for these changes," the academic notes.
On 9 July, President Biden signed
the Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, highlighting that "in over 75 percent of US industries, a smaller number of large companies now control more of the business than they did twenty years ago". According to the president, inadequate competition "holds back the US economic growth and innovation". The order spells danger for American tech giants, deems Professor Thomas Sutton, political analyst at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio.
"Biden’s recent executive orders to increase market competition signal that large social media companies need to be careful to self-regulate, or face limits imposed by presidential executive order or Congressional action," Sutton suggests. "Facebook will continue to defend itself from accusations, but will also try to work with the Administration to address the issue and avoid more aggressive regulatory action."
Not only the US but also global players are trying to tighten the screws on Big Tech, according to Tama Leaver, who believes that Biden's "push" will be "largely supported by other countries, so Facebook has a lot to do otherwise its reputation will be even more tarnished".
In February 2021, Australia went after Facebook and Google by passing a law aimed at making the tech giants pay for news content on their platforms
. In July, France's antitrust authority fined Google €500 million ($593 million) accusing the corporation of not negotiating "in good faith" with the country's news companies.
Is the White House Setting Terms of Service for Big Tech?
While the Biden administration is increasing pressure on the US leading social media platforms, the conservatives and independents have raised the alarm over apparent collusion between the government and Big Tech.
On 15 July, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told journalists that "it shouldn't come as any surprise that we're regularly in touch with social media platforms" and that officials are "flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation." Psaki went further suggesting that if one is banned for the spreading of misinformation on one media platform, he/she should be banned from the others.
"Here’s Jen Psaki setting the social media monopolies’ terms of service for them. Who thinks these are still 'private' companies?" tweeted
Josh Hawley, United States senator from Missouri.
American lawyer and journalist Ron Coleman voiced
similar concerns: "Can the government tell social media platforms which users and posts to restrict?" he asked on Twitter. "Because per Press Secretary [Jen Psaki], they admit they're doing just that."
Following Psaki's remark, America First Legal, a legal group run by former Trump administration officials, filed a batch of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on July 16, according
to the Epoch Times. The legal group is seeking details on the government's communications relating to the reported effort to push social media giants to censor speech.
Why are Americans Losing Faith in Institutions of Authority?
Meanwhile, the Biden administration only has itself to blame for the erosion of public trust in the government's COVID measures, believes Marc Little.
"The Biden administration has left no room for debate related to COVID-19, notwithstanding the overall decline of COVID-19 cases and the decline of COVID-19 deaths nationwide indicating the end of the pandemic, and the power of herd immunity (which is no longer discussed)," Little says.
In addition, Dr. Anthony Fauci, constantly lauded by the Biden administration, has sown a lot of confusion about the pandemic from day one, according to the lawyer. Fauci's emails released by BuzzFeed and the Washington Post under FOIA exposed the COVID tsar's flip-flopping while handling the pandemic
, Little recalls.
"We learned that Dr. Fauci told a close friend via email that masks don’t work while telling the public the opposite," the lawyer says. "You would have to be a fool to follow Dr. Fauci just based on his many inconsistent statements alone… Moreover, Dr. Fauci now pushes us to vaccinate our children where reports initially said children have the lowest risk of COVID-19 fatalities. Now, they mask our children in schools and come up with tales to jab them absent any science to support it."
To add to the confusion, Democratic lawmakers and governors have been repeatedly caught not adhering to COVID protocols and mask-mandates which they imposed on the general public, Little notes. "Hypocrisy has destroyed their ability to protect Americans," he says. "This is a scam on the American people by the political elites."
On top of this, the Biden administration and Dr. Fauci abruptly backpedalled on their earlier condemnation of Donald Trump's theory of the Wuhan lab origins of coronavirus
and called for an investigation into the issue. Facebook shifted goalposts too, reversing its ban on those discussing the possibility that the virus was man-made. Still, no evidence has emerged so far to justify this abrupt change of mind in the White House and Silicon Valley.
Not only conservatives but also independents and left-leaning observers are sounding alarm over the growing distrust towards the US authorities. US independent journalist Glenn Greenwald notes
in his Twitter feed: "There's good reason people distrust the government (which lies constantly) and health experts (who also lied constantly along with getting much wrong and, worse, politicising COVID advice: stay home! go to BLM protests!). People lost faith in institutions of authority. Ask why.