- Mark Zuckerberg said it’s easier for Facebook to “take a much harder line” on coronavirus misinformation.
- Zuckerberg told The New York Times that policies could be more “black and white” around a global health crisis like COVID-19 than they would in political discourse.
- Social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have taken a tougher stance on misinformation amid the coronavirus pandemic than in other contexts.
- In recent months, they have faced increasing pressure from lawmakers and critics to more actively police harmful and misleading content, especially surrounding the 2020 election.
- Facebook, which has recently begun fact-checking ads, has faced backlash from employees and lawmakers for refusing to fact-check political ads, citing freedom of speech.
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“When you’re dealing with a pandemic, a lot of the stuff we’re seeing just crossed the threshold,” Zuckerberg said in an interview with The New York Times. As a result, he added, “it’s easier to set policies that are a little more black and white and take a much harder line.”
Zuckerberg’s comments comes as harmful misinformation about the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, continues to circulate on and off social media in recent weeks, including on numerous ocassions from President Donald Trump.
Newsguard, which ranks websites by trustworthiness, said in early March that “health care hoax sites are exponentially more popular than websites of public health institutions,” receiving more than 142 times as much social media engagement in the past 90 days as the websites for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organisation combined.
That has prompted Facebook and other social media platforms to begin an effort to crack down on posts making misleading claims about coronavirus cures, false testing methods, and information that contradicts what public officials have said.
Facebook and Google have banned ads for face masks – which experts don’t recommend for most people and need to be allocated to health workers who need them most – as sellers looking to profit from the panic seem to pop up overnight. Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and other online retailers have also sought to limit price gouging and attempts at profiteering from people’s fears, while Apple and Google have banned all coronavirus-related apps not from official sources from their app stores.
Social media companies’ tough stances on hoaxes and misleading or exploitative content during the COVID-19 pandemic stand in stark contrast to their approches when it comes to misinformation in other contexts, such as political discourse. Facebook in particular has drawn criticism for policies on platforms like Facebook-owned Instagram, and for its refusal to fact-check political ads.
When asked by The New York Times whether he thought Facebook’s aggressive efforts to combat harmful coronavirus content would extend to the 2020 presidential campaign, Zuckerberg said: “It’s hard to predict exactly how it plays out beyond that.”