Facebook, Twitter Take Action After Trump Spreads False Information Again

Deletions and a suspension got handed out by social media platforms after Trump claims that children are “almost immune” to COVID-19.

Impeached US president, Donald Trump, is once again lying to the public. This time, the false information he spread came back to bite him. Twitter, for its part, has taken action in the past whenever Trump spreads harmful information. Facebook, however, is different in that we haven’t really heard the platform take action up to now.

The post itself pointed to a Fox News TV interview in which the US president said, “If you look at children, children are almost – and I would almost say definitely – almost immune from this disease”. Of course, that is factually incorrect. In a paper published by Public Health Ontario, children do, in fact, get infected with COVID-19. From the paper (PDF):

Evidence to date suggests that approximately 1-10% of COVID-19 cases are in children. Children of all ages appear to be susceptible and sex has not been identified as a risk factor.

So, to say that children are “almost immune” to COVID-19 is, in fact, false. There really is no debate here. The evidence is clear. Yes, there is plenty more to learn about the disease such as why symptoms appear to be more mild in children and, likely, what the long term effects of the disease are for children. Still, there are basic things we do know already such as how children can become infected with COVID-19.

What is likely going on with Trump is that he is hoping that this pandemic will magically go away on its own. It’s basically a political effort to spin his way out of a pandemic even though the virus really doesn’t know or care what the president is hoping would happen.

The thing is, Trump and his staff apparently spread those comments through social media. Certainly, traditional media outlets have blasted the platforms for being to blame for the spread of false information. In the last several months, social media platforms have actively started cracking down on false information. Efforts did temporarily run into a wall when the false information came from the US president himself. However, as other platforms took action, remaining platforms started seeing the pressure of needing to take action or risk being the odd platform out.

Now, it seems that both Twitter and Facebook have taken action. Twitter has already taken action in the past whenever Trump spread false information, but Facebook had seemingly been much more reluctant than most to take action. It would appear that even Facebook has reached the limit of how much they are willing to take from Trump. From the BBC:

A Facebook spokesperson said on Wednesday evening: “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.”

It was the first time the social giant had taken action to remove content posted by the president based on its coronavirus-misinformation policy, but not the first time it has penalised Mr Trump over content on his page.

Later on Wednesday, Twitter said it had frozen the @TeamTrump account because it posted the same interview excerpt, which President Trump’s account shared.

A Twitter spokesman said the @TeamTrump tweet “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.”

It later appeared to have been deleted.

The Trump team, for their part, didn’t take too kindly to the actions that forced their lies offline. In response, the team cried political “bias”. From Vanity Fair:

Courtney Parella, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, claimed “the president was stating a fact that children are less susceptible to the coronavirus” and called Facebook’s removal “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 arbiters of truth.” While Twitter has fact-checked the president in the past over his baseless voter fraud allegations, Facebook has taken a more hands-off approach to Trump’s incendiary posts, a stance CEO Mark Zuckerberg has justified “as the leader of an institution committed to free expression.”

Parella’s statement adds to the chorus of unfounded GOP claims of anti-conservative bias on social media, baseless attacks that come as right-wing news and opinion—including conspiracy theories—continues to thrive on Facebook. As my colleague Eric Lutz noted last month, conservatives seem more concerned with Silicon Valley’s alleged “bias” than the potential antitrust issues involving big tech companies like Google and Facebook. “That these platforms, with broad and mostly unbridled power, have the potential to disseminate such dangerous lies and conspiracy theories is a far more pressing issue,” he wrote.

The co-hosts of Fox & Friends, where Trump made the false claims, were quick to chime in about the social media crackdown—and suggest anti-conservative bias is at play. “All those great doctors in Silicon Valley will decide what is right and what is wrong,” said Brian Kilmeade on Wednesday. “So much for Mark Zuckerberg saying he wouldn’t be the arbiter of truth,” added Pete Hegseth.

The potential harm such statements would cause is quite significant. This is happening at a time when the administration is pushing to have schools fully re-open in an effort to pretend that the country is back to business as usual. There is pushback against these efforts because of the obvious potential implications. Already, the US is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases. At times, the cases have broken 1 day records. A quarter of all the cases on the planet is found in the US. Many rightfully fear that reopening schools would cause an explosion of new cases in the country.

It is more than understandable that the platforms would take such an action in the first place. If anything, prominent conservatives have been given substantial leeway compared to most average users. Had Trump been just another average user, he likely would have been banned from the platforms long ago. It would be doubtful that Facebook would see rule violations from him and say, “Well, I guess we need to re-write how we moderate things so that we can carve out special exceptions for him.” No, he’d be gone. However, because he is the US president, it made it much more difficult for social media platforms to enforce the rules.

Indeed, platforms were initially hesitant on taking action against Trump. They obviously saw how much attention he drew to the platform in the first place. Unfortunately, the only end result of trying to plug their collective noses only meant that Trump just kept further testing the limits of what he could say. It seems that death threats and the spread of harmful content wound up being the last straw for many. For many observers, having Trump and his team face consequences was a long time coming.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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