Facebook, Twitter block Trump video with ‘harmful COVID misinformation’

Twitter temporarily freezes account of Trump campaign over video with claim children are ‘almost immune’ to virus; Facebook deletes post containing clip

US President Donald Trump meets with the family of slain Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen in the Oval Office of the White House on July 30, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump meets with the family of slain Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen in the Oval Office of the White House on July 30, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Twitter and Facebook both took action against US President Donald Trump’s accounts Wednesday after his campaign posted a video the social media companies said contained misinformation about COVID-19.

At issue was a claim by Trump in the video that children are “almost immune” to the deadly virus.

Twitter said it temporarily blocked Trump’s official campaign account due to a tweet containing the video.

The tweet “is in violation of the Twitter rules on COVID-19 misinformation,” a spokesperson for the San Francisco-based service told AFP. “The account owner will be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again.”

Facebook said earlier it had removed the video post as the claim was “harmful COVID misinformation.”

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.

Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci wears a face covering as he listens during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 30, 2020. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

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 that 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 US president and political leaders. Some 1,000 advertisers have joined a boycott aiming to ramp up pressure on Facebook.

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