Facebook has long been associated with considerable amounts of disinformation, and that only got worse throughout the pandemic. Despite the social media platform implementing a special label on all posts about COVID-19 vaccines earlier this year, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain says Facebook needs to do more about it.
Speaking with Kara Swisher for the Sway podcast at the New York Times, Klain stopped short of saying Mark Zuckerberg’s company needs to be held liable, but he did suggest Facebook needs to improve its approach.
"I think the platforms need to do better. I think particularly Facebook needs to do better,” said Klain when asked about how misinformation related to COVID and the vaccine circulates online. He maintained that Facebook does have genuine information available to users, but studies show it’s been a large influence on anti-vaccine movements across America and the world.
“I’ve told Mark Zuckerberg directly that when we gather groups of people who are not vaccinated and we ask them, why aren’t you vaccinated, and they tell us things that are wrong, tell us things that are untrue, and we ask them where they’ve heard that, the most common answer is Facebook,” said Klain. “And so we know it has become a giant source of misinformation and disinformation about the vaccines. So I am worried about this problem of misinformation, disinformation driving vaccine hesitancy in our country, and of course, in other countries, too."
Klain said he hasn’t spoken to Zuckerberg since March. Zuckerberg did, however, briefly touch on the general proliferation of misinformation on Facebook.
"He cited the efforts that Facebook was undertaking to try to put out good information, and I told him I think that I recognize that Facebook is a source of a lot of good information about vaccines,” said Klain. “But it also, unfortunately, is a source of a lot of bad information about vaccines. And he responded by talking about the challenges of suppressing information on Facebook and how he’s trying to manage that.” Klain remarked that it’s “no question” that “a lot of misinformation” regarding vaccines originates on Facebook.
“Billions of these doses have been given around the world. Very few adverse effects,” Klain said, once again stressing the safeness of the vaccine. “The consequences of not being vaccinated is much more severe than any side effects you get from the vaccine. It is proven safe. It is free. It is widely available. There’s no waiting. And we have to make sure that everyone is trying to get out the information that gives people the true, honest case for vaccination."
As for what the next steps are to combat disinformation, Klain said all social media networks would benefit from taking more of a “responsibility” to inform their users. "I think that right now, the reality is Facebook has a responsibility—all the platforms. I don’t want to single out Facebook, but it is the largest one. But all the platforms have a responsibility to try to help make sure people aren’t making bad choices based on bad information."
Listen to the full episode of the podcast below.