Facebook will no longer remove posts claiming COVID-19 was ‘man-made’

·Senior Editor
·2-min read

Claiming that COVID-19 was ‘man-made’ will no longer get your post removed by Facebook. The social network has updated its misinformation rules and will no longer remove claims that COVID-19 was made in a lab or created by a government.

The change, first reported yesterday by Politico, comes as President Joe Biden has ordered a new investigation into the origins of the pandemic, including whether the pandemic “emerged from human contact with an infected animal” or as the result of a lab accident. “I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion,” President Biden said Wednesday in a statement.

The “lab accident” theory has gained new momentum in recent weeks as some scientists have said there is not enough evidence to rule it out as a possibility. Proponents of this theory say the pandemic could have originated in a Wuhan lab where researchers studied coronaviruses. The World Health Organization, which Facebook has long relied on in shaping its coronavirus policies, has said “all hypotheses remain open” though its researchers have said the lab theory is unlikely.

All this resulted in Facebook updating its misinformation rules. Previously, the company removed posts that claimed the virus was “man-made,” manufactured in a lab or a bioweapon created by a government. Now, Facebook will no longer remove these statements — even though some go much further than the “lab accident” theory.

“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge.”

For Facebook, the change underscores how COVID-19 has forced the company to confront misinformation in new, and often more aggressive, ways. In the early days of the pandemic, the company announced that it would take the unusual step of not just debunking misinformation about COVID-19, but removing posts with claims it considered dangerous. Since then, Facebook has removed millions of posts for spreading dangerous misinformation, including fake cures and other conspiracy theories.

While it’s not the first time Facebook’s coronavirus misinformation rules have evolved — the company has also changed its rules regarding vaccine misinformation, for example — the latest change has raised some eyebrows and prompted criticism that the company shouldn’t have “censored” such views in the first place.

But between a flurry of news coverage and a new government investigation, the issue has firmly entered the “mainstream,” even if scientists are still divided on the actual question. So it’s not surprising that Facebook would want to make room for its users to debate the issue as well.