Facebook expands censorship of COVID-19 posts it deems as 'conspiracy theories'

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Facebook has announced that its expanding censorship of posts that it deems as advancing "conspiracy theories" about COVID-19 vaccines.

In an announcement posted Monday, Facebook said it was updating efforts to remove posts on the site and Instagram, which they own, that have been labeled by them as false.

“… we are expanding our efforts to remove false claims on Facebook and Instagram about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines and vaccines in general during the pandemic,” stated the social media company.

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“Today, 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.”

Claims about the vaccine that Facebook has labeled false include “COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured,” “Vaccines are not effective at preventing the disease they are meant to protect against,” “It’s safer to get the disease than to get the vaccine,” and “Vaccines are toxic, dangerous or cause autism.”

Facebook explained that the enforcement of the policy will begin immediately, with an openness to fully removing accounts, groups, and pages that “repeatedly share these debunked claims.”

They will also modify their search engine results on Facebook and Instagram so that resources deemed “relevant,” “expert,” and “authoritative” get priority and it will be “harder to find accounts … that discourage people from getting vaccinated.”

Some critics, among them reporter and sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, have argued that the expanded censorship could unintentionally remove posts with genuine COVID-19 research.

“They'd then have to take down most of public health advice, including from the CDC and the WHO and major newspapers, from the first six months of the pandemic,” said Tufekci in a series of posts to Twitter. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, WHO and the CDC all advised against using masks and Facebook removed posts that suggested people should be wearing masks.

“There are *still* countries where public health authorities do not recommend masks (besides being standard advice from WHO till June 2020). Tons of mainstream media articles from 2020 with claims of masks making you sick/higher risk for infection. What about those?”

Tufekci added that while she was a proponent of wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19, “we've never had the ideal randomized cluster trial” to confirm their effectiveness.

“If there were a chance for a new study, are people not allowed to talk about it on Facebook? Who drew up these @Facebook guidelines?” she continued.

In 2019, before the pandemic began, Facebook announced that they were looking to reduce the influence of anti-vaccination posts on their social media platform.

“We will reduce the ranking of groups and Pages that spread misinformation about vaccinations in News Feed and Search. These groups and Pages will not be included in recommendations or in predictions when you type into Search,” stated Facebook at the time.

“When we find ads that include misinformation about vaccinations, we will reject them. We also removed related targeting options, like ‘vaccine controversies.’ For ad accounts that continue to violate our policies, we may take further action, such as disabling the ad account.”

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