On Tuesday, Facebook took action against a post by President Donald Trump, which falsely claimed that the seasonal flu is more deadly than COVID-19. Social media outlets have been hesitant to act against the president, even when he posts lies on their platforms. While Facebook resisted for longer than Twitter did, the company removed a post this week.
"Flu season is coming up!" Trump wrote early on Tuesday morning. "Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!" This post was false on several levels, and within hours it was removed from Facebook altogether. On Twitter, it was simply hidden, so that users could view it only after reading a message about how it contained "misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19."
This is Facebook's Covid-19 misinformation policy, per @nick_clegg.
And this is Trump's post this morning. pic.twitter.com/dqwJ4ytg7t— Donie O'Sullivan (@donie) October 6, 2020
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told CNN that the post was removed from the site because it violated the platform's rules on COVID-19 misinformation. In the past, Facebook has been more hesitant to flag or remove Trump's posts than Twitter, where his tweets are sometimes hidden in this way, but never taken down altogether.
Trump seemed to respond to these actions by Facebook and Twitter a few hours later, tweeting: "REPEAL SECTION 230!!!" Section 230 is reportedly a reference to a law that protects social media platforms practical immunity for any decisions they make on content moderation. It allows these private companies to dictate their own terms of service, rather than answering to a government agency as TV, radio and other forms of mass media do.
REPEAL SECTION 230!!!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 6, 2020
Although Trump has been an avid Twitter user for years, the company did not take action against Trump's false claims on its platform until May of 2020. At the time, Trump threatened legal action against Twitter to stop this from happening. Since then, he has often skirted these rules and worded his messages carefully to avoid disruption.
The most major story about a Trump post being fact-checked by social media companies was in August, when Trump posted more false claims about COVID-19. At the time, he shared a clip from his own interview on Fox News, where he falsely said that children are "almost immune" to the pandemic.
Trump remains active on social media on Tuesday despite these removals and warnings on his posts. He is back at the White House, but is still sick with COVID-19. It is not clear if and how he is being isolated from vulnerable staff.