A resurgence of interest in the “lab leak” theory of the origin of Covid-19 has prompted the social media company Facebook to lift a ban on posts that claim that Covid-19 was man-made.
Its new policy comes “in light of ongoing investigations into the origin”, said the company.
Posts with such claims was explicitly banned by Facebook in February as a part of the broader policy update of the company aimed at “removing more false claims about Covid-19 and vaccines”.
“Following consultations with leading health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), we are expanding the list of false claims we will remove to include additional debunked claims about the coronavirus and vaccines,” Facebook had said at that time in a public statement.
The posts that claimed that Covid-19 was “man-made or manufactured” were either removed or restricted earlier while the company banned users completely if they continued to share the allegation.
However this week, Facebook said: “In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of Covid-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that Covid-19 is man-made from our apps. We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge.”
This change was prompted by a report published by the Wall Street Journal about US intelligence sources believing existence of some evidence that warranted further investigations into the “lab leak” theory. Three staff members at the Wuhan Institute for Virology had been forced to seek hospital treatment as they had symptoms that were similar to those of Covid-19 in November 2019, the report claimed. Some have however criticised the report arguing that circumstantial evidence and speculation were still the basis of the claims.
Facebook is also aware to ensure that such a change in one rule does not result in a free-for-all for Covid-19 misinformation. Therefore the company also tightened up restrictions on users who “repeatedly share misinformation on Facebook” on the very same day that the social media platform lifted the ban on lab-leak theories.
The changes in the rules of the social media platform now means that any user who chooses to repeatedly share such content that has been rated false will see their posts suppressed – even for posts that have not been or are yet to be marked as false. Users will also get a pop notice if they like a page that has repeatedly shared false information. The pop up will warn the users of the posting history of such pages.
“Whether it’s false or misleading content about Covid-19 and vaccines, climate change, elections or other topics, we’re making sure fewer people see misinformation on our apps,” Facebook said in a statement.
The company has come under fire this year for its failure to act on misinformation “superspreaders”: individual users with hundreds of thousands, or millions, of followers who regularly post false claims about Covid-19.
(Adapted from TheGuardian.com)