Facebook will no longer take down posts claiming that Covid-19 was man-made or manufactured, a company spokesperson told on Wednesday. This move marked the renewed debate about the virus’ origins. This debate were initiated after Washington called to a fuller investigation into the origins of Covid-19.
The list of misleading health claims to be removed from Facebook platforms was expanded in February to include those asserting that “COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured.” In consultation with global health officials, the tech giant has updated its policies against false and misleading coronavirus information, including its running list of debunked claims, over the course of the pandemic.
Three scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized in late 2019 with symptoms consistent with the virus, as the Wall Street Journal reported. These newly discovered facts gave rise to the debate about the so-called Wuhan lab-leak theory, once dismissed as obvious conspiracy theory.
President Joe Biden said on May, 26 that he had instructed the intelligence agencies to “redouble” their efforts to reveal the virus’ origin and report their findings in 90 days. Biden also found out that two theories about Covid-19’s origin are accepted by the intelligence community. The investigation will examine “whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.”
But the focus of it would be primarily to answer the question whether the virus may have accidentally escaped from the lab, not that it was man-made or purposely released. Still, both theories may now propagate on Facebook. Genetic studies of the virus have found flaws in the protein it uses to bind to human cells. When trying to engineer a bioweapon, these features likely would be avoided.
According to a Facebook spokesperson, as the debate about the virus renewed, the origin language has been stricken from that list.
“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,” the spokesperson said in an emailed 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.”
Social media companies have faced intense pressure from congressional Democrats to get tough on misinformation about the virus throughout the pandemic, with House lawmakers hauling in the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google for a hearing on the matter in March.
Twitter together with other social media platforms has said that misleading statement about the virus’ roots may also violate its policies. But Facebook’s intention marks the first major sign prominent social media companies are revisiting those rules as the very existence of the Wuhan lab-leak theory still may not be rejected.
At the same time currently Twitter has no plan to revisit its own rules on Covid-19 origin claims. According to their spokesperson, it continues to “work in close consultation with global public health authorities” on coronavirus misinformation issues.
Spokespeople for Google-owned YouTube did not return requests for comment on whether the company is revisiting its policies relating to claims about the virus’ origins.