The Biden administration continues to pressure Facebook to collaborate and help it achieve its goals, one of them being to counter COVID vaccine skepticism and get more people in the US vaccinated.
After Biden shockingly denounced Facebook and others as “killing people” because they are allegedly letting COVID misinformation run rampant on their platforms, that pressure now continues in media reports, like the one The Washington Post published, citing three anonymous administration sources.
According to them, The White House and Facebook have had a series of meetings whose aim was to get the social media giant to turn over massive amounts of user data to the government, apparently as a “good will gesture” – since there doesn’t seem to be any legal ground for such a request.
Instead, the “tense” meetings saw the administration’s COVID crew “begging” Facebook to give them access to data showing how many people on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp see content branded as coronavirus misinformation, how many are still undecided whether to get the jab, and also the efficiency of Facebook’s censorship algorithms, i.e., how many people still get to see content that it aims to block.
It’s not obvious why the officials quoted by the article thought Facebook was under obligation to do this, but they accused the company of “hiding, filibustering and deflecting” – while at the same time commending Google and Twitter for apparently being much more accommodating in similar meetings around the same subject.
Although it is clear that these meetings are initiated and the data sought by the government, the criticism of Facebook in this matter conflates the notions of government and the public, saying it was the latter that “needs to understand” the scale of COVID misinformation and how to “potentially” fight this real or perceived problem.
The data Facebook has collected from its billions of users is described as “singular” and so complex and fine-grained that it can reveal people’s behavior and position on issues – clearly this is where the belief that the data would show the Biden administration how many users are still undecided on the vaccine comes from.
“It’s not that they wouldn’t provide data. It’s that they wouldn’t provide meaningful data, and you end up with a lot of information that doesn’t necessarily have value,” Andy Slavitt, who represented The White House in the meetings, said.