US President Joe Biden’s latest “surge response” to fight the spread of Covid-19 includes an appeal for Big Tech and media companies to block allegedly false pandemic-related claims.
“I make a special appeal to social media companies and media outlets,” Biden said on Thursday. “Please deal with the misinformation and disinformation that’s on your shows. It has to stop.”
Biden made the comment as he announced a series of new measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, including plans for free masks, more free tests, and additional deployments of military medical teams to help hospitals cope with rising patient loads. He didn’t specify what constitutes misinformation or disinformation in the pandemic age.
Biden urged a crackdown immediately after chiding people who have chosen not to get vaccinated by saying they were “standing in the way” of the fight against the virus.
Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms already have strict policies on commentary about Covid-19 if it clashes with the currently mainstream approach to dealing with the virus. Social media giants have also employed teams of fact-checkers, vigorously working to enforce those policies. But Biden’s administration is scrambling to find more ways to fight Covid “misinformation” after the fast-spreading Omicron variant pushed new infections and hospitalizations to record highs.
Biden’s apparent censorship appeal quickly sparked backlash on social media. This included claims that the president is among those spreading misinformation. Biden falsely said last month that “almost all” Covid-19 deaths were among unvaccinated people, and he claimed last July that “you’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations.”
Other critics blasted Biden’s statement on principle. “Imagine calling for censorship of your own nation as the POTUS when you’ve taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, and the FIRST Amendment is freedom of speech,” podcast host Barrington Martin II said on Twitter.
Many observers questioned the wisdom of letting gatekeepers decide which speech is misinformation, thereby blocking open discussion and independent truth-seeking. Still others suggested that Biden is trying to do damage-control after his failure to meet campaign promises on Covid-19 contributed to a downward spiral in his approval ratings.