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Twitter, Facebook Remove Trump Post Over False Claim About Children And COVID-19

Aug 5, 2020
Originally published on August 6, 2020 9:31 am

Both Twitter and Facebook have removed a post shared by President Trump for breaking their rules against spreading coronavirus misinformation.

Twitter temporarily blocked the Trump election campaign account from tweeting until it removed a post with a video clip from a Fox News interview from Wednesday morning, in which the president urged schools to reopen, falsely claiming that children are "almost immune from this disease."

Facebook also removed a post containing the same video from Trump's personal page. Both Facebook and Twitter said the post violated their rules on COVID-19 misinformation.

Research has shown that while children tend to get infected with the coronavirus less often and have milder symptoms than adults, kids can still contract and spread it. Some have gotten seriously ill and even died.

"This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation," said Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson.

"The @TeamTrump Tweet you referenced is in violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation. The account owner will be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again," said Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy.

The Trump campaign removed the tweet and has since been tweeting again.

"The President was stating a fact that children are less susceptible to the coronavirus," said Courtney Parella, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, in response to the Facebook removal. "Another day, another display of Silicon Valley's flagrant bias against this President, where the rules are only enforced in one direction. Social media companies are not the arbiters of truth."

That echoed what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said to critics who want him to crack down more on false claims from politicians: that Facebook does not want to be the "arbiter of truth."

Facebook has taken down content shared by Trump before, but Wednesday's video was the first time it did so because of the coronavirus misinformation policy.

Such removals are rare, because Facebook takes a largely hands-off approach to posts from political figures. That stance sets it apart from Twitter, which has added fact-checking and warning labels to the president's tweets and banned political advertising altogether.

Facebook's position has also generated criticism from civil rights groups, Democratic politicians and even its own employees, who have called on Facebook executives to hold politicians to the same standards as other users.

An independent audit of Facebook's policies published last month slammed the company for prioritizing free expression "over all other values."

In recent months, Facebook has removed Trump campaign ads that used a Nazi symbol as well as ads that made misleading claims about the 2020 census.

In June, Facebook took down a post shared by President Trump containing a doctored video of a "racist baby," following a copyright complaint from one of the children's parents.

Editor's note: Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


Something remarkable happened on social media yesterday. It started with President Trump and his campaign sharing an interview he had done on Fox News. Then both Twitter and Facebook stepped in because they say the video broke the company's rules against spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. We've NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond here to talk about this. Let me first note that Facebook is an NPR financial supporter. Shannon, good morning to you. And just give us a sense for how this all started.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Well, like you said, this was a video clip from a Fox News interview from Wednesday morning. And in it, the president urged schools to reopen, and he falsely claimed that children are, quote, "virtually immune" from COVID-19. Now, of course, that's not true. Research has shown that while children do tend to get infected with the coronavirus less often, they tend to have milder symptoms than adults, kids can still contract it. They can spread it. And some children have gotten seriously ill and even died.

GREENE: All right. Well, given all of that, I mean, what did these companies, Twitter and Facebook, do about this?

BOND: Well, both said, look, we have rules against spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. It's a big issue right now. And they said this video crosses that line. So Facebook just removed the Trump post altogether from his personal page. It said you can't make false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19. And Twitter, it banned the Trump campaign's account from tweeting. The campaign account is who put this video up on Twitter. And Twitter said, if you don't take the video down, you can't tweet.

GREENE: Well, let me just ask you, I mean, broadly. I mean, we know social media plays such a role in life now, including in politics. So what does this tell us about how these platforms might act as we get closer to November and the election?

BOND: Well, I think we have to remember back to 2016 and what happened. Russian hackers used these platforms to spread disinformation, to influence voters. So Facebook, Twitter, they're under a lot of pressure to do better this time. Facebook has really tried to stay hands off when it comes to politics and what politicians post. CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he doesn't want to be the arbiter of truth. But that doesn't mean that anything goes on Facebook. It's taken down other things that the campaign and the president have posted for violating other policies. So it removed Trump campaign ads that used a Nazi symbol. It took down a post by the president with a doctored video. So I think despite Zuckerberg's reluctance, we do occasionally see Facebook acting as kind of a traffic cop and setting some limits.

GREENE: And what about Twitter?

BOND: Well, Twitter has taken a much more aggressive approach than Facebook, especially lately. And it's really cracked down on the president. It's put fact-checks, warning labels on some of his posts. And it also even blocked his son Donald Trump Jr. from tweeting after he broke similar rules about spreading coronavirus misinformation. So, you know, I think we're just going to see kind of more of this stuff happen before the election.

GREENE: And what are we hearing from the Trump campaign about all of this?

BOND: Well, the campaign sent out a public statement saying, look, the president was stating a fact. He was merely saying that children are less susceptible to the disease, even though, to be very clear, that's not exactly what he said on Fox News. The campaign also accused the social media platforms of being biased against conservatives. And that's something we hear from a lot of conservatives. It's not particularly backed up by evidence. But I think, you know, look at just - look at how the Trump campaign reacted yesterday when they were blocked from tweeting. It quickly removed the tweet with this video after it lost those privileges. That's an admission that this campaign really needs Twitter. You know, we know social media in this day and age is already critical to reaching voters. With a pandemic, it's even more clear. This is a campaign going to be fought online.

GREENE: NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond. Shannon, thanks a lot.

BOND: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.