Opinion | ‘They’re Killing People’? Biden Isn’t Quite Right, but He’s Not Wrong

By Kara Swisher

Ms. Swisher, a contributing Opinion writer, has reported on technology and technology companies since the early days of the internet.

It was a stunning thing to say, even if it is in many ways true.

“They’re killing people,” President Biden said loudly enough to be heard under the roar of his Marine One helicopter idling on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday.

He was talking not about terrorists or leaders of rogue nations or even gun manufacturers. He was talking Silicon Valley tech moguls, most specifically people like Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the top two leaders of Facebook, and their platform’s role in allowing dangerous misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccines to spread far and wide.

“The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that’s — they’re killing people,” he said when asked to send a message to social media platforms amid a surge of infections in areas where people are refusing the shots.

This message has clearly been coordinated as tensions have increased between the Biden administration and Facebook particularly. That had been signaled earlier in the week in a much less stark way by Jen Psaki, Mr. Biden’s press secretary, and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Ms. Psaki pointed to a public health crisis as the reason to pressure social media companies, which also faced difficultly trying to balance concerns about protecting speech with the danger of some misinformation.

And in an interview with me two weeks ago, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, also seemed to be laying the groundwork for putting the blame on Facebook for the administration not reaching its promised goal of 70 percent vaccinated by July 4: “Facebook itself has built a number of tools to help people find vaccines and so on and so forth. But 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.”

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