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Facebook Blinks: No Longer Wants to Censor COVID “Misinformation”

Global Affairs President Nick Clegg has revealed that Facebook is seeking the guidance of its Oversight Board about removing “false claims”

Citing the view that the COVID-19 pandemic has “evolved,” Meta, Facebook’s parent company, is deciding whether to continue removing “misinformation” about the pandemic from the platform:

Meta has asked the company’s Oversight Board, which is funded by Meta but operates independently, to decide whether removing “false claims about masks, social distancing and vaccines” on Facebook is still appropriate as “countries around the world seek to return to more normal life,” Meta’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, said Tuesday in a blog post.

Sherri Walsh, “Facebook parent Meta to reconsider removing COVID-19 misinformation” at UPI (July 26, 2022)
Social distance concept. keep spaced between each chairs make separate for social distancing, increasing physical space between people to avoid spreading illness during transmission of COVID-19. 3D

The U.S. government had put a lot of pressure on Meta, as UPI notes, and Facebook removed 25 million items of information. Clegg explains:

As a result, Meta has removed COVID-19 misinformation on an unprecedented scale. Globally, more than 25 million pieces of content have been removed since the start of the pandemic. Under this policy, Meta began removing false claims about masking, social distancing and the transmissibility of the virus. In late 2020, when the first vaccine became available, we also began removing further false claims, such as the vaccine being harmful or ineffective. Meta’s policy currently provides for removal of 80 distinct false claims about COVID-19 and vaccines.

Nick Clegg, President, Global Affairs, “Meta Asks Oversight Board to Advise on COVID-19 Misinformation Policies” at Meta (July 26, 2022)

Tech writer Casey Newton interviewed Clegg:

Last week, I asked Clegg why the company had decided to ask the board for a second opinion on health misinformation now. One, he said, Meta assumes there will be future pandemics that bring with them their own set of policy issues. The company wants to get some expert guidance now so it can act more thoughtfully the next time around. And two, he said, the Oversight Board can take months to produce an opinion. Meta wanted to get that process started now.

But more than anything, he said, the company wanted a check on its power — to have the board, with which this month it signed a new three-year, $150 million operating deal, weigh in on what have been some fairly stringent policies.

“This was a very dramatic extension of our most exacting sanction,” Clegg told me. “We haven’t done it on this scale in such a short period of time before. … If you have awesome power, it is all the more important that you exercise that awesome power thoughtfully, accountably, and transparently. It would be curious and eccentric, in my view, not to refer this to the Oversight Board.”

Casey Newton, “Facebook rethinks COVID misinformation” at Platformer (July 26, 2022)
Promising Covid-19 Vaccine concept. Hand of a researcher take a 2019-nCov vaccine vial with wooden alphabet letters "VACCINE". Candidates, Authorized, Volunteers, Global trial, Hope, Successful.

The obvious — though unmentioned — problem is that many of the suppressed claims were not clearly false. There is a good deal of legitimate contention around the means of COVID transmission, the value of public masking, vaccine injuries (which certainly occur), and COVID’s origin.

Perhaps recent revelations have played a role in Facebook’s new hesitancy. As Wesley J. Smith recounts:

Why, just the other day, former presidential COVID adviser Dr. Deborah Birx admitted that she has known all along that the vaccines would not prevent transmission of the disease. But that isn’t what she and the administration said at the time, as she acknowledged in an interview on Fox News (July 22, 2022).

“I knew these vaccines were not going to protect against infection,” she told Neal Cavuto. “And I think we overplayed the vaccines, and it made people then worry that it’s not going to protect against severe disease and hospitalization.”

Wesley J. Smith, “Trust in science? Fraud now claimed re key Alzheimer paper” at Mind Matters News (July 26, 2022)

It had become evident to much of the world, well before this episode, that the science around COVID was indifferently reliable, with official sources reinforcing the panic. Thus bouts of Big Social Media censorship often seemed arbitrary. Plus, the later proposal that government and Big Social Media should work together on a Disinformation Board, under the circumstances, confirmed the worst fears of many.

Targeting only non-government misinformation entrenches the view that government — right or wrong — is always right. Meta and Facebook are wise to back off from that enforcer role.

You may also wish to read: You may also wish to read: Did social media panic drive up the damage from COVID-19? Richards: It was, honestly, terrifying to watch important stories and studies get buried in real time on Google searches. Social media did a very good job of panicking the population about COVID-19, instead of relaying facts, says Jay Richards, an author of The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe (October 2020)

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Facebook Blinks: No Longer Wants to Censor COVID “Misinformation”