- Facebook scientists reportedly asked to study COVID-19 misinformation at the start of the pandemic.
- Management never approved their request for resources, sources told The New York Times.
- Facebook is fighting with the Biden administration over vaccine misinformation on its platform.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Early in the pandemic, data scientists at Facebook asked for resources to monitor COVID-19 misinformation on the platform, but were ignored by leadership, according to a report from The New York Times.
The Times spoke to two people who were present at a meeting where data scientists asked for resources to study the spread of COVID-19 misinformation. The data scientists asked for new hires and to assign some current employees to the project, but management never approved it, and never gave an explanation, the people told The Times.
White House officials and experts have urged Facebook to share its own data about the spread and prevalence of misinformation.
It is not clear whether Facebook packages that data so it can be usefully studied.
One source told The Times that Facebook has the raw data, but hasn’t put resources towards defining and labeling misinformation.
Facebook is currently fighting the Biden administration over whether it’s doing enough to combat COVID-19 misinformation. When asked on Friday what his message to companies like Facebook was, President Joe Biden said: “you’re killing people.”
Biden walked that statement back on Monday, saying key people who spread anti-vaxx misinformation on Facebook were killing people.
Biden cited a March study by the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) which said the majority of anti-vaxx information on Facebook was generated by just 12 high-profile individuals.
Facebook shot back at Biden, accusing him of using the company as a scapegoat to explain away missing his goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult US population by July 4.
In a blog post on Saturday, Facebook’s vice president of integrity Guy Rosen claimed a survey conducted by Facebook and two universities showed vaccine hesitancy among its users had dropped 50% during the pandemic.
A Facebook spokeswoman told The Times: “The suggestion we haven’t put resources toward combating Covid misinformation and supporting the vaccine rollout is just not supported by the facts.
“With no standard definition for vaccine misinformation, and with both false and even true content (often shared by mainstream media outlets) potentially discouraging vaccine acceptance, we focus on the outcomes – measuring whether people who use Facebook are accepting of COVID-19 vaccines.”
Facebook did not immediately respond when contacted by Insider for comment on The Times’ report.