- Jen Psaki on Friday called a Fox News reporter’s question “loaded and inaccurate.”
- The reporter, Peter Doocy, had asked whether the White House was spying on Facebook accounts.
- Psaki rejected the claim, saying that the profiles are public.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday dismissed a Fox News reporter’s claim that the Biden administration was “spying” on Facebook accounts that spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
“For how long has the administration been spying on people’s Facebook profiles looking for vaccine misinformation?” Peter Doocy, a Fox correspondent, asked Psaki, referring to recent reporting that the White House recommended that social-media companies censor accounts spreading misinformation about public health .
Psaki interrupted Doocy, calling his question “loaded and inaccurate.” She said the accounts were publicly accessible and therefore the administration wasn’t “spying” on them.
“This is publicly open information, people sharing information online, just as you are all reporting information on your news stations,” she said.
Independent researchers have found that small groups of people account for the overwhelming majority of anti-vaccine misinformation on social platforms like Facebook. In March, a report from the advocacy nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate linked up to 73% of false or misleading anti-vaccine posts on Facebook to just 12 people. The company has since said it removed some accounts and public pages tied to those people.
Doocy pressed Psaki on whether the people behind those 12 accounts knew that the White House was “going through their profile.”
Psaki reiterated that “these are people who are sharing information on a public platform.”
“There’s no secret list,” she added.
Psaki then shifted the conversation toward the importance of tackling vaccine misinformation online, saying that it is contributing to the COVID-19 death toll.
“Our biggest concern here, and I frankly think it should be your biggest concern, is the number of people who are dying around the country because they’re getting misinformation that is leading them to not take a vaccine,” she said.
The administration is flagging false information, including that COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility, to social-media companies and urging them to censor it, Psaki added.
“We want to know that the social-media platforms are taking steps to address it — that is, inaccurate, false information,” she said.
—Acyn (@Acyn) July 16, 2021
—Acyn (@Acyn) July 16, 2021
—The Recount (@therecount) July 16, 2021
Shortly after the press conference, reporters questioned President Joe Biden about vaccine misinformation on Facebook. Asked for a message to social-media companies, Biden replied: “They’re killing people.”
—Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) July 16, 2021
Facebook announced in February that it planned to crack down on vaccine misinformation. The company said accounts would be subject to removal if they spread false or debunked claims. The social-media platform acknowledged that “there’s still a long road ahead” but said it was “focused on supporting health leaders and public officials in their work to vaccinate billions of people against COVID-19.”
These false claims include “denying that COVID exists, claiming that false cures are in fact the way to solve COVID and not vaccination, decrying vaccines and decrying doctors as being in some way venal or motivated by other factors when they recommend vaccines,” said Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which conducted the research on the 12 people whose accounts have made headlines.
Fox News, for its part, has broadcast criticism of some vaccination efforts. Prominent personalities including Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have attacked the Biden administration’s vaccine rollout. Carlson called Biden’s latest approach to launch a “door-to-door” vaccine drive as ” the greatest scandal” in his lifetime, and Ingraham said it was “creepy stuff.” Carlson has also fed into vaccine skepticism, once alleging that unspecified forces were “lying” to the public about the shots.
COVID-19 is continuing to spread largely among unvaccinated people in the US, with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky saying on Friday, “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Roughly 59% of American adults had been fully vaccinated as of Friday, according to data compiled by The New York Times. About 67% of adults have received at least one COVID-19 dose.