Saturday, 26 Sep 2020

Facebook, Twitter remove Trump post over 'false' coronavirus claims

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP, REUTERS) – Facebook said Wednesday (Aug 5) it had removed a video post by US President Donald Trump in which he contended that children are “almost immune” to the coronavirus, a claim the social network called “harmful Covid misinformation.”

A tweet containing the video that was posted by the Trump campaign’s @TeamTrump account and shared by the president was also later hidden by Twitter for breaking its Covid-19 misinformation rules. 

A Twitter spokesman said the @TeamTrump account owner would be required to remove the tweet before they could tweet again. 

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that while adults make up most of the known Covid-19 cases to date, some children and infants have been sick with the disease and they can also transmit it to others. 

The White House and the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

During a briefing at the White House, Trump repeated his claim that the virus had little impact on children. 

“Children handle it very well,” he told reporters.

“If you look at the numbers, in terms of mortality, fatalities … for children under a certain age … their immune systems are very very strong and very powerful.

They seem to be able to handle it very well and that’s according to every statistical claim.”

This was the first time the leading social network has pulled a post from the president’s page for being dangerously incorrect, although it did remove a post from his campaign’s page for using a Nazi symbol.

The video clip from a Fox News interview “includes false claims that a group of people is immune from Covid-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful Covid misinformation,” a Facebook spokesperson told AFP.

The move came as Facebook faces pressure to prevent the spread of misinformation while simultaneously being accused of silencing viewpoints by calling for posts to be truthful.

Trump defended his comments when questioned about them during a White House press briefing.

“I’m talking about (being immune) from getting very sick,” Trump said.

“If you look at children I mean they are able to throw it off very easily.”

Health officials have urged people of all age groups to protect themselves against exposure to the virus, saying everyone is at risk.

Trump last week unleashed a burst of misleading medical speculation, criticism for his own top virus expert and praise for an eccentric preacher-doctor touting conspiracy theories.

That put an end to a brief period during which Trump sought to get his shaky reelection campaign back on track by addressing national criticism of a leadership void in a crisis that has already killed nearly 160,000 Americans and wreaked havoc on the world’s biggest economy.

Trump said it was unfair that leading US infectious diseases specialist Anthony Fauci was more popular than him.

He pushed his pet theory – counter to advice from his own government and most doctors – that the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine can be used to treat Covid-19 patients.

And he took pains to praise Stella Immanuel, a doctor and preacher who believes in witchcraft and a plot being carried out to vaccinate people against being religious, calling her “spectacular.”

Facebook placed an informational disclaimer last month on a post from Trump claiming mail-in voting would lead to a “corrupt” election.

The move appeared to follow through on the social network giant’s pledge to step up efforts to fight misinformation, including from world leaders, shifting slightly from its hands-off policy on political speech.

Facebook has largely held firm to a policy that it would not fact-check political leaders, but it has pledged to take down any post which could lead to violence or mislead people about the voting process.

A coalition of activists has pressed Facebook to be more aggressive in removing hateful content and misinformation, including from the president and political leaders.

Some 1,000 advertisers have joined a boycott aiming to ramp up pressure on Facebook.

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