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Twitter, Facebook Remove Trump Post Over False Claim About Children And COVID-19

Facebook said the president's claims violated its coronavirus misinformation policy, in a rare departure from the social network's largely hands-off approach to politicians.
Olivier Douliery
AFP via Getty Images
Facebook said the president's claims violated its coronavirus misinformation policy, in a rare departure from the social network's largely hands-off approach to politicians.

Both Twitter and Facebook have removed a post shared by President Trump for breaking their rules against spreading coronavirus misinformation.

Twitter temporarily blocked the Trump election campaign account from tweeting until it removed a post with a video clip from a Fox News interview from Wednesday morning, in which the president urged schools to reopen, falsely claiming that children are "almost immune from this disease."

Facebook also removed a post containing the same video from Trump's personal page. Both Facebook and Twitter said the post violated their rules on COVID-19 misinformation.

Research has shown that while children tend to get infected with the coronavirus less often and have milder symptoms than adults, kids can still contract and spread it. Some have gotten seriously ill and even died.

"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," said Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson.

"The @TeamTrump Tweet you referenced 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," said Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy.

The Trump campaign removed the tweet and has since been tweeting again.

"The President was stating a fact that children are less susceptible to the coronavirus," said Courtney Parella, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, in response to the Facebook removal. "Another day, 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 the arbiters of truth."

That echoed what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said to critics who want him to crack down more on false claims from politicians: that Facebook does not want to be the "arbiter of truth."

Facebook has taken down content shared by Trump before, but Wednesday's video was the first time it did so because of the coronavirus misinformation policy.

Such removals are rare, because Facebook takes a largely hands-off approach to posts from political figures. That stance sets it apart from Twitter, which has added fact-checking and warning labels to the president's tweets and banned political advertising altogether.

Facebook's position has also generated criticism from civil rights groups, Democratic politicians and even its own employees, who have called on Facebook executives to hold politicians to the same standards as other users.

An independent audit of Facebook's policies published last month slammed the company for prioritizing free expression "over all other values."

In recent months, Facebook has removed Trump campaign ads that used a Nazi symbol as well as ads that made misleading claims about the 2020 census.

In June, Facebook took down a post shared by President Trump containing a doctored video of a "racist baby," following a copyright complaint from one of the children's parents.

Editor's note: Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.

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Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.