Facebook Removes Coronavirus Misinformation but Will Only Ban Lockdown Protests If They Violate Social Distancing

"Unless government prohibits the event during this time, we allow it to be organized on Facebook," a company spokesperson tells Reason.


Facebook will remove coronavirus-related misinformation that directly threatens imminent harm, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told ABC News. But contrary to several media reports, Facebook is not taking action against all lockdown protests that are being organized on the site.

"Unless government prohibits the event during this time, we allow it to be organized on Facebook," a company spokesperson tells Reason. "For this same reason, events that defy government's guidance on social distancing aren't allowed on Facebook."

This is slightly but critically different from what was reported by The Hill, which made it sound like Zuckerberg had endorsed some kind of blanket ban on anti-lockdown activism:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that protests against stay-at-home orders organized through his social media site qualify as "harmful misinformation" and are taken down.

Zuckerberg's answer to Stephanopoulos—who had asked about protests that explicitly violate social distancing—was actually more complicated than that. Here was the exact exchange:

Stephanopoulos: How do you deal with the fact that Facebook is now being used to organize a lot of these protests that defy social distancing and defy social distancing guidelines in states? If someone is trying to organize something like that, does that qualify as harmful misinformation because it defies social distancing?

Zuckerberg: This is an important question. If someone is spreading something that is misinformation—certainly, someone saying that social distancing is not effective to help limit the spread of coronavirus—we do classify that as harmful misinformation and we take that down. At the same time, it's important for people to debate policies, basically give their opinions on different things, so there's a line on this. But more than normal political discourse, I think, a lot of the things people are saying that is false around a health emergency can be classified as harmful misinformation that has a risk of leading to physical danger, and we will take that down.

At the behest of state governments, Facebook has indeed taken action against some anti-quarantine protests being organized on the site. But that's because those events were being organized in direct violation of state social distancing dictates, Facebook saysIt matters what each state's guidance has been, and it matters whether the event in question is urging participants to take appropriate precautions.

That's markedly different from the idea that all opposition to the lockdowns is being treated as harmful misinformation.

In terms of content, Zuckerberg said that only posts advocating imminently harmful actions would be taken down. He cited a theoretical post recommending bleach as a miracle cure for COVID-19 as an example.

"That's not allowed on our service at all," said Zuckerberg. "There have been thousands and thousands of pieces of content like that we have to take down."

Again, the panic-stricken reporting about the Big Tech censorship would have people believe that Facebook is removing all content about the coronavirus that doesn't toe some government-approved line. But while there are bound to be times when Facebook makes a bad moderation call, on paper, its policy is reasonable.