President Joe Biden missed his goal of 70 percent of Americans vaccinated against Covid by July 4th. Some cities are now urging even vaccinated residents to resume mask-wearing, and in states such as Missouri and Utah, where large swaths of the population remain unvaccinated, health officials are warning of hospitals filling up again. The delta variant is on the march with the country’s current spike in Covid deaths and infections exclusively hitting unvaccinated communities. The expression “a pandemic of the unvaccinated” has been heard.

Joe blames Facebook. “They’re killing people,” he told reporters. Claiming that social media are killing people may be overheated political rhetoric, but he has a point. The U.S. surgeon general has warned, “These platforms have to recognize they’ve played a major role in the increase in speed and scale with which misinformation is spreading.”

Facebook disagrees. Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, claims that 85 percent of its U.S. users had been or wanted to be vaccinated. The company claims it is taking aggressive action to protect public health.

Be that as it may, social media represents a tragic failure. An instrument that could do enormous public good is as often as not used to spread lies and conspiracies. As I have blogged before, the Internet is a liar’s paradise. You can tell a lie of any magnitude, have it spread around the world instantaneously, and you need accept no accountability—paradise.

Every technology has its dark side. The automobile liberated people like no other transportation, but lead to urban sprawl and financially and environmentally inefficient cities. Fossil fuels are largely responsible for making modern life possible, yet may eventually make it impossible.

The Internet, too, has brought great promise, but unfortunately is commonly used as an effective instrument for the dark side of free speech.

If Facebook had committed itself to getting Dr. Fauci’s words of wisdom out while suppressing the rant of conspiracy theorists, as a responsible newspaper would do, the United States might now be 90 percent vaccinated. Thousands of lives would have been saved and immense suffering avoided.

Facebook avoids traditional journalistic responsibilities by claiming it is not a publisher but rather a neutral platform. It is therefore, under U.S. legislation, not responsible for content posted by its users. This is critical in allowing the Internet to function effectively, yet it allows platforms a carte blanche that threatens democracy.

Eventually legislation needs to catch up to technology and impose journalistic standards on all journalistic media. In the meantime, we will have to rely on the “aggressive action” promised by Facebook and its fellow social media and hope they curb at least the worst excesses.

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