On Facebook, each single serving of truth comes with a heaping side of bullshit.
Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Anthony Fauci talked all things coronavirus Monday afternoon, but if you tuned in to the Facebook livestream you’d be forgiven for missing the finer points of the discussion. That’s because the often deranged user comments, running alongside the conversation and overflowing with COVID-19 misinformation, had a tendency to distract.
As the coronavirus death toll continues to climb in the United States — passing 266,000 as of this writing — Dr. Fauci took the opportunity to speak with the Facebook CEO about the efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna’s coronavirus vaccines as well as the timeline for their availability in the U.S. And while he was encouraging on both points, you wouldn’t know it had you taken a moment to avail yourself of the broader connection Facebook makes possible.
Of the over 48,000 comments left during the course of the interview, many read like poorly written parodies of anti-vaxxers gone off the deep end.
“I’m not getting your fucking vaccine, you quack,” read a typical comment.
“Oh now you want us to use vaccines because you’re pushing it,” read another. “Anyone seen I am legend… That was a vaccine too.. Ya’ll see what happened there🤣😂 Not happening Zuck[.]”
“People take your vitamins get some exercise take charge of your own health don’t rely on a vaccine from the Devil,” encouraged another deeply misinformed Facebook user.
It’s worth mentioning, of course, that vaccines undergo extensive clinical trails — and the current coronavirus vaccines are no exception. In fact, Dr. Fauci mentioned this very point repeatedly. However, if the Facebook comments were any indication, he didn’t appear to sway the scores of commenters convinced that vaccines are the “mark of the beast” or contain some sort of secret “small chip.”
And then, of course, there was the usual internet vitriol of “Go and kill yourself idiots.”
That classic social media greeting was sprinkled with conspiracy theories old and new, such as “WHY WERE YOU ON EPSTEINS ISLAND” and “Illuminati NWO puppets[.]”
Importantly, these are not just the cherry-picked comments of a reporter looking to prove a point. If you pull up a recording of the conversation after it concludes, Facebook kindly provides users the options to sort comments by the “most relevant.” Selecting that option highlights dangerous vaccine misinformation.
Yes, if you’re logged in, Facebook gives you the option to “hide” the comment section. That the spigot of misinformation is turned on by default, however, is sure to expose those in search of authoritative sources to lies. In a pandemic, that’s especially worrisome.
All in all, the conversation between Zuckerberg and Dr. Fauci was a depressing reminder of how Facebook serves to bury even valuable information — in this case the words coming out of Dr. Fauci’s mouth — in an avalanche of hate, conspiracy theories, and dangerous science denialism.