Facebook took down a post from President Trump’s personal page of a Fox News interview in which he said that children are “almost immune” from COVID-19.
“This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation,” Facebook said in a statement.
It was the first time Facebook has removed a post by the president for violating its policies on COVID-19 misinformation.
Twitter also took action late Wednesday.
“The Tweet you referenced is in violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation. The account owner will be required to remove the tweet before they can tweet again,” the company said in a statement to USA TODAY.
At issue: a video clip from an interview with Fox & Friends, which aired Wednesday morning, in which Trump said children should return to school because they are “almost immune” or “virtually immune” from the disease.
Doctors say children can catch – and pass on – the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives.
“The President was stating a fact that children are less susceptible to the coronavirus. Another day, another display of Silicon Valley’s flagrant bias against this President, where the rules are only enforced in one direction,” Courtney Parella, deputy national press secretary for Trump’s reelection campaign, said in a statement. “Social media companies are not the arbiters of truth.”
Asked during the White House briefing Wednesday about his comments, Trump said: “If you look at children, they are able to throw it off very easily and it’s an amazing thing, because some flus they don’t, they get very sick. … They seem to be able to handle it very well, and that’s according to every statistic.”
The Fox interview was viewed nearly half a million times in the four hours before it was removed from Facebook. A link to Trump’s Facebook post now redirects to a page that says: “This Content Isn’t Available Right Now.”
The takedown comes as Facebook cracks down on false claims about the pandemic. Facebook has removed content shared by the president for violating other policies. In June, Facebook removed ads posted by Trump’s reelection campaign that featured a Nazi symbol. Facebook could not say how many times it has taken down Trump posts.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, applauded the removal.Get the Talking Tech newsletter in your inbox.
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“Facebook has been too lenient with Trump, particularly when the falsehood involves public health and children. A stricter stance could have important consequences as the election season heats up,” Tobias said. “I think Twitter’s action may be even more important because it seems to be Trump’s favorite way to communicate. Having two big players in the social media space may embolden others to crack down on the false information.”
Last week, Twitter took action against Trump and his son for posts that promoted bogus cures for COVID-19.
Twitter, which has earned Trump’s ire for fact-checking his tweets, removed a post the President retweeted in which a doctor proclaims, without evidence, that “there is a cure” for the coronavirus.
Twitter also restricted the account of Donald Trump, Jr., after removing a post in which doctors touted the alleged benefits of “hydroxychloroquine” in fighting the coronavirus. The president’s son was blocked from tweeting for 12 hours.
Facebook has drawn fire from the political left and right for its handling of Trump’s posts. Most controversial inside and outside the company was CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to leave up a post in which the president called protesters “thugs” and warned “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” On the other hand, Trump and his supporters have repeatedly claimed censorship due to anti-conservative bias.
Pressure for Facebook to more strictly moderate content on its platforms has intensified in recent weeks. More than 1,000 advertisers joined a boycott in July organized by civil rights groups over the spread of hate speech and misinformation. On Wednesday, nearly two dozen state attorneys general sent a letter criticizing Facebook’s handling of content.
Last week Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the chairman of the House antitrust subcommittee, confronted Zuckerberg about the spread of misinformation on the platform. During a hearing on the power and size of the big tech companies, Cicilline noted that it took so long to remove one video that it garnered 20 million in five hours on Facebook.
“Doesn’t that suggest that your platform is so big that even with the right policies in place, you can’t contain deadly content?” Cicilline asked. Zuckerberg responded that Facebook has a “good track record” on policing misinformation.
Last month, Facebook launched Facts About Covid-19, a section of the COVID Information Center dedicated to debunking common myths about the pandemic. Zuckerberg has also interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease official, in livestreams on the Facebook platform.