Facebook-parent Meta is weighing whether to relax its policies against Covid-19 misinformation, proposing a shift from removing false claims to simply labeling or demoting them.
The social media giant on Tuesday asked its independent Oversight Board for an opinion on whether its tougher pandemic policies are still warranted, citing higher vaccination rates around the world as well as the company’s own efforts to promote authoritative information about Covid-19.
One alternative to removing false claims, the company suggested, may be to label or suppress them in users’ feeds — either by having Meta police the claims directly or by outsourcing that work to its third-party fact-checkers, whose reports can prompt Meta’s algorithms to reduce the visibility of claims rated as fake.
“Meta remains committed to combating COVID-19 misinformation and providing people with reliable information,” wrote Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, in a blog post. But, he added, “as the pandemic has evolved, the time is right for us to seek input from the Oversight Board about our measures to address COVID-19 misinformation, including whether those introduced in the early days of an extraordinary global crisis remains the right approach for the months and years ahead.”
Meta’s current policies explicitly ban a wide array of false claims about Covid-19, such as that the illness can be transmitted by 5G wireless technology or that Covid-19 tests can infect you with the virus. The company has listed as many as 80 distinct types of false claims that are subject to removal from its platforms, Clegg said, and has removed more than 25 million pieces of violative content.
Clegg characterized Meta’s original decision to begin removing those claims as an unprecedented step brought on by the global health emergency.
“The change meant that, for the first time, the policy would provide for removal of entire categories of false claims on a worldwide scale,” he wrote.
But now, as Meta considers ratcheting the policy downward, false claims could be given more breathing room on the company’s services.
Clegg described the company’s thinking, and its request for an Oversight Board opinion, as an effort to resolve “inherent tensions between free expression and safety.”