Facebook will remove false claims and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus if it risks causing harm to people who believe them, the company has announced. The policy applies across both Instagram and Facebook, and includes misinformation about fake cures or prevention methods, or any claim that could confuse people about what health resources are available. Hashtags used to spread misinformation on Instagram will also be blocked or restricted.
The social media company has previously agreed to limit the reach of public health misinformation — such as anti-vax conspiracy theories — but removing content entirely is much rarer. The company says it has a policy of removing content when it creates the risk of physical harm. For example, last year it agreed to remove online rumors about the polio vaccine when the rumors were putting health workers at risk in Pakistan, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The decision came just hours after the World Health Organization declared a global public health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak. Facebook says it will rely on health organizations to flag conspiracy theories that could be harmful. There are now almost 10,000 cases of the virus confirmed globally, across as many as 19 countries, according to BBC News.
In addition to removing actively harmful content related to the coronavirus, Facebook also says it will limit the spread of misinformation that’s flagged as false by its fact-checkers. It will notify people that the information could be inaccurate if they have shared or are attempting to share a flagged post. Facebook will also attempt to point users towards accurate information by placing messages at the top of Facebook’s News Feed, or providing educational popups when people make certain searches or Facebook or tap certain hashtags on Instagram.
The decision to outright remove harmful misinformation sits in contrast to Facebook’s position on political falsehoods. Earlier this year, for example, the company said it would continue to allow lies to be spread via political ads, to allow political claims to be scrutinized in public, “warts and all.”