Aletho News


Facebook Should Keep Removing COVID ‘Misinformation,’ Oversight Board Says

By Brenda Baletti, Ph.D. | The Defender | April 21, 2023

The oversight board for Facebook’s parent company, Meta, on Thursday recommended the social media giant “maintain its current policy” of removing COVID-19 “misinformation” from its platform until the World Health Organization declares an end to the global pandemic.

The board made the recommendation despite widespread outcry about social media censorship after the Twitter Files and several ongoing lawsuits revealed collusion between state actors and social media companies to censor dissenting opinions and factual information that contradict official narratives, including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recommendation came in response to a request by Meta in July that the oversight board — an independent panel of tech and legal experts selected by Meta to weigh in on content policy issues — assess whether “a less restrictive approach” to censoring misinformation might “better align with its values and human rights responsibilities.”

Meta’s current misinformation policy sets different categories of harm content might cause, making that content subject to removal. Content is censored if the platform deems that it contributes to the “risk of imminent physical harm,” could cause “interference” with the functioning of political processes or contains “certain highly deceptive manipulated media.”

But the board didn’t find inconsistency between Meta’s “misinformation policy” and its “values and human rights responsibilities.” Instead, it said Meta’s current “exceptional measures” of eliminating disinformation are “justified.”

The board also urged Meta to “begin a process” to reassess which “misleading claims” it removes, to be more transparent about government requests for information, to consider making its “misinformation” policies more localized and to investigate how the architecture of the platform facilitates the spread of misinformation.

Meta said Thursday it will publicly respond to the board’s non-binding recommendations within 60 days.

Suzanne Nossel, a board member and CEO of PEN America, told The Washington Post that the board’s recommendations are not just relevant to COVID-19, but could shape Meta’s approach to anticipated future global health emergencies.

“The decision is less perhaps about the COVID pandemic per se or exclusively than about … how Meta should handle its responsibilities in the context of a fast-moving public health emergency,” she said.

How Facebook and Instagram censor COVID ‘misinformation’

The recommendation specifically assessed Meta’s “misinformation about health during public emergencies” policy, under which it removes 80 distinct “COVID-19 misinformation claims” posted on its platforms, such as claiming masking or social distancing lack efficacy or that the vaccines can have serious side effects.

Between March 2020 and July 2022, Facebook and Instagram, also owned by Meta, removed 27 million instances of COVID-19 “misinformation,” 1.3 million of which were restored on appeal.

The social media giant also designates a second type of COVID-19 “misinformation,” which does not reach the standard of removal, but is still subject to manipulation by the platform.

For example, information in that category is “fact-checked” where it is labeled as “false” or “missing context,” and then linked to a fact-checking article. That content is then also demoted so that it appears less frequently and prominently in users’ feeds.

Meta also treated other information with what it calls “neutral labels,” where it labeled posts with statements such as “some unapproved COVID-19 treatments may cause serious harm” and then directed people to Meta’s COVID-19 information center, which provides approved information from public health authorities.

Last July, the company said it had connected more than 2 billion people across 189 countries to “trustworthy information” through the portal. But it decided to stop using the neutral labels in December 2022, to ensure they would remain effective in other health emergencies, according to the oversight board’s report.

The basis for determining what is misinformation is whether the information conforms to what public health authorities deem to be true, according to the board’s recommendation and the Facebook policy page.

But throughout the pandemic, public health authorities have had to concede they were wrong about things — and that they lied about things — they had previously pronounced to be science-backed facts.

These “facts” include, for example, flip-flopping on masks, the lab-leak hypothesis, the effectiveness of natural immunity and numerous claims about vaccine efficacy, including that it stops transmission.

That means the platforms eliminated and demoted facts and information that were true. Even CNN conceded that “the company applied the labels to a wide range of claims both true and untrue about vaccines, treatments and other topics related to the virus.”

‘This kind of abuse of power should terrify all of us’

The board recommendations don’t mention the events that led Meta to consider changing its policies — controversy over recent revelations about how government officials coerced social media companies into toeing the government line.

In 2021, President Biden directly criticized Facebook and other platforms, saying they allowed “vaccine misinformation” to spread and they contributed to deaths from COVID-19.

He said they were “killing people” and that the pandemic was only “among the unvaccinated.”

Biden’s accusation was accompanied by threats of regulatory action from from high-ranking members of the administration — including White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — if the social media companies did not comply.

Psaki said government officials were in regular touch with social media platforms, telling them what — and in some cases whom — to censor, Jenin Younes reported.

DHS even created a video in 2021, since removed from youtube, encouraging children to report their own family members to Facebook for ‘disinformation’ if they challenge U.S. government narratives on COVID-19.

Writing in Tablet Magazine this month, civil liberties attorney Jenin Younes recounted the story of a Facebook support group for people who experienced adverse events related to the COVID-19 vaccines being shut down for spreading harmful “misinformation.”

Last month, in the Twitter Files release about Stanford University’s Virality project, Matt Taiibbi revealed that Stanford, with the backing of several government agencies, had created a cross-platform digital ticketing system that was processing censorship requests for all of the social media platforms, including Meta’s.

The Virality Project claimed its objective “is to detect, analyze, and respond to incidents of false and misleading narratives related to COVID-19 vaccines across online ecosystems.”

Taibbi said the Virality Project was “defining true things as disinformation or misinformation or malformation,” which he said signifies “a new evolution of the disinformation process away from trying to figure out what’s true and what’s not and just going directly to political narrative.”

That reflects Meta’s policy to censor statements that don’t conform to official public health authority doctrine as “misinformation.”

Meta’s policies do not mention the tips and directions it receives from government agencies about misinformation.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Tuesday published an op-ed in The Hill calling for an end to censorship practices, pointing out that statements about COVID-19 made on platforms like Facebook that are now supported by evidence were flagged as disinformation.

”Statements including my own, that our government once labeled as ‘disinformation,’ such as the efficacy of masks, naturally acquired immunity, and the origins of COVID-19, are now supported by evidence,” he said.

“In reality, the most significant source of disinformation during the pandemic, with the most influence and greatest impact on people’s lives, was the U.S. government,” he added.

Rand pointed to critiques of DHS’s “abusive practices” by organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and highlighted a Brennan Center for Justice report published last month that found at least 12 DHS programs for tracking what Americans are saying online.

“This kind of abuse of power should terrify all of us regardless of which side of the aisle you are on,” he said.

Brenda Baletti Ph.D. is a reporter for The Defender. She wrote and taught about capitalism and politics for 10 years in the writing program at Duke University. She holds a Ph.D. in human geography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s from the University of Texas at Austin.

This article was originally published by The Defender — Children’s Health Defense’s News & Views Website under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Please consider subscribing to The Defender or donating to Children’s Health Defense.

April 22, 2023 - Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Science and Pseudo-Science | , , , , ,

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