Facebook has distracted from its policy of not checking politicians for facts to prevent the spread of potentially harmful coronavirus misinformation by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Facebook made the crucial decision to remove a video shared by Bolsonaro on Sunday, claiming that "hydroxychloroquine works everywhere." This is despite the fact that the drug is still being tested to determine its effectiveness in the treatment of COVID-19, which researchers and health officials have not confirmed.
"We remove content on Facebook and Instagram that violates our community standards and does not allow misinformation that could result in physical harm," a Facebook spokesman told theinformationsuperhighway. Facebook explicitly prohibits false claims regarding healing, treatments, availability of essential services, and the location or intensity of outbreaks.
BBC News Brazil first reported today on the shutdown in Portuguese. In the removed video, Bolsonaro had spoken to a street vendor and the president claimed "they want to work," contrary to the World Health Organization's recommendation that people practice social distancing. He continued: "This medicine there, hydroxychloroquine, works in all places."
If people mistakenly believe that there is widespread treatment for COVID-19, they may be more ruthless when going public, going to work, or refusing to remain isolated. This could result in the virus spreading faster, wiping out efforts to flatten the curve and overflowing health systems.
For this reason, Twitter removed two of Bolsonaro's tweets and one of Rudy Giuliani on Sunday to stop the spread of misinformation. So far, however, Facebook has generally avoided acting as an arbiter of the truth about the accuracy of politicians' claims. It notoriously refuses to send obvious misinformation in political advertisements, including that of Donald Trump, to fact checkers.
Last week, however, Facebook demonstrated that COVID-19 misinformation, "which could contribute to imminent physical harm", is being addressed immediately and immediately, as has been the case with other outbreaks since 2018, while less pressing conspiracy theories that are not direct physical damage is sent to fact checkers who can then reach the Facebook reach of these downgraded posts.
The question now is whether Facebook would be willing to apply this enforcement to Trump, who has been criticized for spreading misinformation about the seriousness of the outbreak, possible treatments, and the risk of sending people back to work. Facebook is known to fear setbacks from conservative politicians and citizens who have developed a false narrative that discriminates or censors their posts.