Zuckerberg remarks comes as social networks are grappling with hoaxes and conspiracy theories about the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19. Earlier in May, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube struggled to control the spread of a viral video that includes various coronavirus conspiracy theories. Facebook removed the video because Judy Mikovits, a controversial former medical researcher, suggested in it that wearing medical masks can make people sick.
Facebook has come under fire for allowing politicians to lie in political ads and posts, but Zuckerberg pointed out that coronavirus misinformation is different because misinformation about a cure could lead to physical harm. There’s been false claims, for example, that drinking bleach can cure the coronavirus.
“One of the things that’s different during a pandemic is that if people are saying that something is a cure, when in fact it could hurt you I do think that is qualitatively different and within the long tradition of free speech and free expression that our country has, to not allow things like that. I think you want to have a pretty high bar for telling people they can’t say something,” Zuckerberg told CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell in an interview. (Disclosure: CBS News and CNET are bother owned by the same parent company, ViacomCBS.) Earlier on Tuesday, the East Coast edition of CBS Evening News didn’t air because of technical difficulties.
Zuckerberg said the company would also pull down coronavirus misinformation posted by politicians if it could lead to physical harm. The company in March removed a video from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in which the politician falsely claims that “hydroxychloroquine is working in all places.” Clinical trials are still needed to prove whether the drug is effective, but there have been anecdotal reports that it could have some benefit, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
If the misinformation doesn’t lead to physical harm, the company will leave up the post but put a warning label over it after fact-checkers have reviewed the information. Facebook is also trying to direct people to more accurate sources of information through an online hub called the coronavirus information center.
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