WASHINGTON—President Biden on Monday sought to clarify his criticism of Facebook Inc., asserting that the company itself wasn’t killing people by not doing enough to clamp down on misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines.
Pointing to research indicating a significant amount of false information comes from 12 social-media users, Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House: "Facebook isn’t killing people. These 12 people are out there giving misinformation. Anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it. It’s killing people. It’s bad information."
Mr. Biden said he hoped his public remarks would prod Facebook to do more. "My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally—that somehow I’m saying Facebook is killing people—that they would do something about the misinformation, the outrageous information about the vaccine," he said. "That’s what I meant."
The president said he hadn’t seen any indication that Facebook is doing enough to satisfy his concerns.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki echoed Mr. Biden’s apparent effort to lessen tensions with Facebook. "We’re not in a war or a battle with Facebook. We’re in a battle with the virus," she told reporters on Monday.
Facebook has pushed back aggressively on criticism by Mr. Biden and his senior advisers in recent days, prompting a new level of tension between the social-media company and the U.S. government.
The company declined to comment on Mr. Biden’s most recent remarks. Facebook has said that it’s taken aggressive steps against the 12 people mentioned by the administration in recent days and others for violating its rules around vaccine misinformation, such as by removing pages, accounts and groups.
On Friday, Mr. Biden told reporters in response to a question about Facebook, "They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people."
Facebook pushed back. "The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period," Facebook spokesman Kevin McAlister said last week in response to Mr. Biden’s initial remarks. Over the weekend, the company went further, accusing the Biden administration of distorting the facts.
On Saturday, the company posted an item on its blog saying it wasn’t responsible for Mr. Biden’s failure to achieve his publicly stated goal of 70% of American adults receiving at least one dose of the vaccine by July 4 and that 85% of its users in the U.S. have been or want to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Facebook also said it was doing its part to help get more Americans vaccinated, such as by operating pop-up vaccine clinics in low-income and underserved communities in California and other states.
Mr. Biden’s decision last week to publicly call out Facebook followed months of mounting private frustration inside his administration over the social-media company’s handling of vaccine misinformation.
Senior advisers to Mr. Biden began meeting with social-media companies during the presidential transition in a bid to strengthen protections against misinformation, U.S. officials said. They met with executives including those for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and Pinterest.
But in recent months, the behind-the-scenes discussions with Facebook grew increasingly unproductive, according to the officials, who said they were unsatisfied with the company’s responses to their requests for more information about how it was responding to the influx in misinformation.
—Sarah E. Needleman contributed to this article.