Facebook on Saturday refuted remarks made by President Joe Biden that social media platforms are “killing people” by allowing coronavirus vaccine misinformation on their services and argued that vaccine acceptance among its users has actually risen in the U.S.
In a blog post, Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, pointed to data suggesting that vaccine hesitancy among U.S. its users has declined by 50%, and 85% of users said they have been or would like to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
“These and other facts tell a very different story to the one promoted by the administration in recent days,” Rosen wrote.
Rosen also pointed to the Biden administration’s narrowly missed goal to vaccinate 70% of Americans by July 4, arguing that Facebook “is not the reason this goal was missed.”
The response from Facebook comes after the president, on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday, was asked what his message was to companies like Facebook with respect to Covid misinformation. In response to the question, Biden responded: “They’re killing people.”
“I mean they really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that’s — they’re killing people,” the president said, echoing earlier comments from White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Psaki, at a news briefing last week, said the Biden administration was flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread misinformation, including false information that the Covid-19 vaccine causes infertility.
The press secretary urged Facebook and other social media companies to address misinformation, including publicly sharing data regarding the impact of misinformation on their services, promoting quality information sources in their feed algorithm, and taking faster action against harmful posts.
Deaths from Covid-19 are increasing again in the U.S. as the delta variant affects largely unvaccinated pockets of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. is reporting an average of 530,000 vaccinations each day over the past week.
At a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in America, the Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social media companies. While social media plays an important role in society, it is clear that we need a whole of society approach to end this pandemic. And facts — not allegations — should help inform that effort. The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the US has increased. These and other facts tell a very different story to the one promoted by the administration in recent days.
Since April 2020, we’ve been collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University and University of Maryland on a global survey to gather insights about COVID-19 symptoms, testing, vaccination rates and more. This is the largest survey of its kind, with over 70 million total responses, and more than 170,000 responses daily across more than 200 countries and territories. For people in the US on Facebook, vaccine hesitancy has declined by 50%; and they are becoming more accepting of vaccines every day.
Since January, vaccine acceptance on the part of Facebook users in the US has increased by 10-15 percentage points (70% → 80-85%) and racial and ethnic disparities in acceptance have shrunk considerably (some of the populations that had the lowest acceptance in January had the highest increases since). The results of this survey are public and we’ve shared them — alongside other data requested by the administration — with the White House, the CDC and other key partners in the federal government.
The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19. President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.
In fact, increased vaccine acceptance has been seen on and off Facebook, with many leaders throughout the US working to make that happen. We employed similar tactics in the UK and Canada, which have similar rates of Facebook usage to the US, and those countries have achieved more than 70% vaccination of eligible populations. This all suggests there’s more than Facebook to the outcome in the US.
Now vaccination efforts are rightly turning to increasing access and availability for harder-to-reach people. That’s why we recently expanded our pop-up vaccine clinics in low-income and underserved communities. To help promote reliable vaccine information to communities with lower access to vaccines, we are using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index. This is a publicly available dataset that crisis and health responders often use to identify communities most likely to need support, as higher vulnerability areas have had lower COVID-19 vaccination coverage.
We have been doing our part in other areas, too:
- Since the pandemic began, more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook. This includes more than 3.3 million Americans using our vaccine finder tool to find out where to get a COVID-19 vaccine and make an appointment to do so.
- More than 50% of people in the US on Facebook have already seen someone use the COVID-19 vaccine profile frames, which we developed in collaboration with the US Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC. From what we have seen, when people see a friend share they have been vaccinated, it increases their perceptions that vaccines are safe.
- We’re continuing to encourage everyone to use these tools to show their friends they’ve been vaccinated. For those who are hesitant, hearing from a friend who’s been vaccinated is undoubtedly more impactful than hearing from a large corporation or the federal government.
And when we see misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, we take action against it.
- Since the beginning of the pandemic we have removed over 18 million instances of COVID-19 misinformation.
- We have also labeled and reduced the visibility of more than 167 million pieces of COVID-19 content debunked by our network of fact-checking partners so fewer people see it and — when they do — they have the full context.
In fact, we’ve already taken action on all eight of the Surgeon General’s recommendations on what tech companies can do to help. And we are continuing to work with health experts to update the list of false claims we remove from our platform. We publish these rules for everyone to read and scrutinize, and we update them regularly as we see new trends emerge.
The Biden Administration is calling for a whole of society approach to this challenge. We agree. As a company, we have devoted unprecedented resources to the fight against the pandemic, pointing people to reliable information and helping them find and schedule vaccinations. And we will continue to do so.
—CNBC’s Salvador Rodriguez contributed to this report.
How Google’s Waze has changed from its early days as car travel is remade
Waze app with icon showing police
In this weekly series, CNBC takes a look at companies that made the inaugural Disruptor 50 list, 10 years later.
Nobody enjoys sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, getting an arrival time delayed due to street construction and gaining more road rage by the minute as a result. Waze, the crowdsourcing navigation app, is continuing to find ways to make frustrating road bumps a little more bearable.
Waze users – also known as “Wazers” – provide information on things like stopped cars, road work, gas prices and police activity during their commutes. The app then collects this real-time data and updates its maps accordingly, giving users the most up-to-date information on travel times and other potential traffic burdens. What was once a small Israeli startup now has more than 140 million monthly users worldwide.
In 2013 – shortly after the app made the inaugural CNBC Disruptor 50 list – Alphabet‘s Google acquired Waze, reportedly for more than $1 billion. The addition of Waze to the Google portfolio was expected to help Google improve features on its own navigation app, Google Maps. Google Maps is still the most popular navigation app today and relies more heavily on historical data to map out the best path to one’s destination. On the other hand, Waze’s unique crowdsourcing technique allows it to determine the fastest route with the most recent information, and it’s only available for car and motorbike use.
The app’s innovation has had led to backlash in the past, for potentially distracting drivers, who must use their phones behind the wheel to make reports on Waze. In 2018, it faced threats of legal action by Los Angeles lawmakers for suggesting shortcuts that ended up causing more congestion on side roads not prepared to handle high amounts of traffic. Uri Levine, co-founder and former Waze president, said at the time that he disagreed with the complaints.
“All roads are the public domain and therefore the right of everyone to use,” Levine said. “In that sense, Waze redistributes traffic to create a better traffic situation for everyone.”
The company also struggled at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. With a decrease in individuals traveling, Waze reported in April 2020 that its users across the globe were driving 60% fewer miles compared to two months prior, with driving in Italy – one of the first countries to see the impacts of Covid-19 – dropping more than 90%. As a result, Waze laid off 5% of its global workforce in September 2020 and permanently closed offices in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions.
The company also shutdown Waze Carpool in September, a service connecting Wazers with similar commutes to carpool. The six-year-old service was intended to help Wazers cut down on gas costs while creating less traffic congestion during busiest travel times each day, but the pandemic caused too many changes in work driving patterns to be a priority, with errand trips and travel now the dominant uses for Waze.
Despite these challenges, innovations within the app have kept Waze users consistently coming back to the platform. It’s one of the top navigation choices among Uber and Lyft drivers. Drivers using Waze can be entertained as they’re directed to their desired location through voices from celebrities like DJ Khaled, Arnold Schwarzenegger and T-Pain. Partnerships with popular music streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio allow Waze users to stream music directly through the Waze app as they navigate to their destination.
Waze also flaunts its ability to do more for the greater good. The app was used by FEMA during Hurricane Sandy to provide information on available fuel locations in the midst of gas shortages; it helped provide accurate information on Covid-19 testing centers at the beginning of the pandemic.
Local governments are also able to partner with Waze through a program called Waze for Cities, which establishes two-way data sharing through the app and government partners that helps communities with city planning and Waze with more accurate traffic monitoring.
New top officials have joined the company relatively recently, with Neha Parikh taking on the role of CEO in June 2021 and CMO Harris Beber joining in April 2022. Beber previously served as CEO at Vimeo, while Parikh was the president of Expedia-owned Hotwire and currently sits on the board of Carvana.
“Why should anybody feel emotional about a navigation app? Yet people do, including me,” Parikh said at the Skift Global Forum in October. “It’s not just a one-way app that uses technology. It is a two-way ecosystem where people actually contribute to help each other.”
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Elon Musk showed off updates to his brain chips and said he’s going to install one in himself when they are ready
Neuralink logo displayed on a phone screen, a silhouette of a paper in shape of a human face and a binary code displayed on a screen are seen in this multiple exposure illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on December 10, 2021.
Jakub Porzycki | Nurphoto | Getty Images
Elon Musk’s health tech venture Neuralink shared updates to its brain-implant technology during a “show and tell” recruitment event Wednesday night. Musk said during the event that he plans to get one of the implants himself.
Musk said two of the company’s applications will aim to restore vision, even for people who were born blind, and a third application will focus on the motor cortex by restoring “full body functionality” for people with severed spinal cords. “We’re confident there are no physical limitations to restoring full body functionality,” Musk said.
Neuralink could begin to test the motor cortex technology in humans in as soon as six months, Musk said.
“Obviously, we want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device in a human, but we’re submitted, I think, most of our paperwork to the FDA,” he said.
But he also claimed he plans to get one himself. “You could have a Neuralink device implanted right now and you wouldn’t even know. I mean, hypothetically. In one of these demos, in fact, in one of these demos, I will,” he said. He reiterated that on Twitter after the event.
Since none of Neuralinks’ devices have been tested on humans or approved by the FDA, Wednesday’s announcements warrant skepticism, said Xing Chen, assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
“Neuralink is a company, it doesn’t have to answer to shareholders,” she told CNBC. “I don’t know how much oversight is involved, but I think it’s very important for the public to always keep in mind that before anything has been approved by the FDA, or any governmental regulatory body, all claims need to be very, very skeptically examined.”
Neuralink was founded in 2016 by Musk and a group of other scientists and engineers. It strives to develop brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, that connect the human brain to computers that can decipher neural signals.
Musk invested tens of millions of his own personal wealth into the company and has said, without evidence, that Neuralink’s devices could enable “superhuman cognition,” enable paralyzed people to operate smartphones or robotic limbs with their minds someday, and “solve” autism and schizophrenia.
The company’s presentation Wednesday echoed these lofty ambitions, as Musk claimed that “as miraculous as it may sound, we’re confident that it is possible to restore full body functionality to someone who has a severed spinal cord.”
Musk showed footage of a monkey with a computer chip in its skull playing “telepathic video games,” which Neuralink first debuted over a year ago. The billionaire, who is also the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and the new owner of Twitter, said at the time that he wants to implant Neuralink chips into quadriplegics who have brain or spinal injuries so that they can “control a computer mouse, or their phone, or really any device just by thinking.”
Neuralink has come under fire for its alleged treatment of monkeys, and the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine called on Musk Wednesday to release details about experiments on monkeys that had resulted in their internal bleeding, paralysis, chronic infections, seizures, declining psychological health and death.
Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison
Neuralink’s flashy presentations are unusual for companies in the medical devices space, said Anna Wexler, an assistant professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She said it’s risky to encourage people who have serious disabilities to get their hopes up, especially if they could possibly incur injuries as the technology is implanted during surgery.
Wexler encouraged people to put on their “skeptic hat” about Neuralink’s big claims.
“From an ethical perspective, I think that hype is very concerning,” she said. “Space or Twitter, that’s one thing, but when you come into the medical context, the stakes are higher.”
Chen, who specializes in brain-computer interfaces, said Neuralink’s implants would require subjects to undergo a very invasive procedure. Doctors would need to create a hole in the skill in order insert the device into the brain tissue itself.
But even so, she thinks some people would be willing to take the risk.
“There’s quite a few disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s and obsessive-compulsive disorder in which people have received brain implants and the disorders have been treated quite successfully, allowing them to have an improved quality of life,” Chen said. “So I do feel that there is a precedent for doing this.”
Wexler said she believes the decision would ultimately come down to an individual patient’s personal risk-benefit calculation.
Neuralink is not the only company trying to innovate using brain-computer interfaces, and many have made big strides in recent years. Blackrock Neurotech is on track to bring a BCI system to market next year, which would make it the first commercially available BCI in history. Synchron received FDA approval in 2021 to begin a clinical trial for a permanently implanted BCI, and Paradromics is reportedly gearing up to begin in-human testing in 2023.
Broke and down to one credit card: Former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried claims he committed no fraud
Striking a contrite tone, former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried said he “didn’t do a good job” at upholding his responsibilities to regulators, customers, and investors in a hotly anticipated conversation with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at the Dealbook Summit.
“I didn’t ever try to commit fraud on anyone,” Bankman-Fried said. “I saw it as a thriving business and I was shocked by what happened this month.”
“I’ve had a bad month,” Bankman-Fried added later.
“We completely failed on risk,” Bankman-Fried continued. “That feels pretty embarrassing, in retrospect.”
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Bankman-Fried appeared by video feed from the Bahamas, Sorkin said. “I’ve been in the Bahamas for the last year,” Bankman-Fried said when asked about why he remained in the island nation.
Sorkin asked Bankman-Fried what motivated his acquisitions in the crypto industry, given the size of Alameda’s borrowing from companies Bankman-Fried intended to acquire.
Bankman-Fried claimed that he believed that by the middle of 2022, Alameda had repaid all lines of credit to various borrowing desks. But Alameda still owes BlockFi over $670 million, according to court filings.
“What are your lawyers telling you right now? Are they suggesting it’s a good idea for you to be speaking?” Sorkin asked the former billionaire.
“No, they’re very much not.”
“The time that I really knew there was a problem was November 6,” Bankman-Fried said, after Alameda’s sizable FTT position was exposed by Coindesk. “When we looked at that, there was a potential serious problem.”
“Alameda had taken a huge hit” by that point. “We were seeing a run on the bank start,” Bankman-Fried said.
“I was nervous [when] the Alameda balance sheet” was exposed by Coindesk, Bankman-Fried said, but expected the damage was going to be limited to Alameda, not an “existential” crisis for FTX.
Sorkin asked Bankman-Fried why FTX and Bankman-Fried even had access to customer money.
“I wasn’t running Alameda, I didn’t know exactly what was going on, I didn’t know the size of their position,” Bankman-Fried said. “A lot of these are things I’ve learned over the last month [in the days leading up to bankruptcy.]”
New leadership at FTX said that Bankman-Fried exercised significant control over the entire empire.
Sorkin pressed Bankman-Fried on Alameda’s gambling on questionable cryptocurrencies, reading a letter out from an investor who lost his life savings of $2 million.
“The U.S. platform is fully solvent and funded,” Bankman-Fried claimed. “I believe withdrawals could be opened up today and be made whole.”
“Can I ask you about the drugs?” Sorkin said. “It’s funny hearing this. I have half a glass of alcohol a year,” Bankman-Fried responded.
The FTX founder repudiated claims of wild partying and off-label drug use, saying that FTX functions consisted of “board games,” or “dinner parties.”
Bankman-Fried claimed he was unaware of the Alameda exposure. In 2019, he said, 40% of FTX’s volume was from Alameda. By 2022, Bankman-Fried claimed, that number was down to 2%, which led him to believe that FTX’s exposure was lessened.
Sorkin continued to press Bankman-Fried on the lending of customer assets. Bankman-Fried demurred.
“In 2018, FTX didn’t have bank accounts,” Bankman-Fried said as justification for why users were asked to wire funds to an account in Alameda’s name instead of directly to FTX.
Bankman-Fried has engaged with the media only sporadically. “F*** regulators,” he told a Vox reporter in a Twitter message.
“I f***** up,” he wrote in another Tweet.
FTX was once hailed as the poster child of responsible crypto. Regulators and lawmakers looked to Bankman-Fried as the future of crypto regulation, a reputation that Bankman-Fried cultivated through appearances before Congress and deepened through generous political contributions.
Bankman-Fried was already known as one of the largest donors to Democratic candidates. He claimed in a recent interview that he gave equally generously to Republican causes, through so-called “dark pool” contributions.
Reporters, Bankman-Fried said, “freak the f*** out if you donate to Republicans.”
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