The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Facebook, Twitter penalize Trump for posts containing coronavirus misinformation

The social media companies have made it clear in recent months that they will not tolerate misinformation on the global pandemic.

The Trump campaign’s version of the story illustrates a successful — and often inaccurate — picture of the president's response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Atthar Mirza/The Washington Post)

Correction: Twitter penalized Team Trump, the president’s campaign account. An earlier version of this article said that Twitter penalized President Trump’s account.

Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday took extraordinary action against President Trump for spreading coronavirus misinformation after his official and campaign accounts broke their rules, respectively.

Facebook removed from Trump’s official account the post of a video clip from a Fox News interview in which he said children are “almost immune” from covid-19. Twitter required his Team Trump campaign account to delete a tweet with the same video, blocking it from tweeting in the interim.

In the removed video, President Trump can be heard in a phone interview saying schools should open. He goes on to say, “If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease,” and that they have stronger immune systems.

The twin actions came roughly three months before the elections in which Trump’s performance on coronavirus is a key issue, and the social media companies have made it clear in recent months that they will not tolerate misinformation on the global pandemic.

Stay safe and informed with our free Coronavirus Updates newsletter

The decision represents something of an about-face for Facebook, whose chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has long been a proponent of free speech on his site. Zuckerberg under pressure in late June said the company will remove posts that incite violence or attempt to suppress voting — even from political leaders — and that the company will affix labels on posts that violate its hate speech or other policies.

Twitter, meanwhile, has taken a more aggressive stance, flagging several of Trump’s tweets for misinformation and even blocking his son Donald Trump Jr. from tweeting for 12 hours for breaking its coronavirus misinformation rules.

Twitter said it hid the campaign’s post and that the account would not be able to tweet again until the message is deleted, although the campaign can appeal the decision. The account was active again late Wednesday night. Trump’s personal account also reshared the video originally posted by Team Trump, but it was removed after the original tweet was blocked.

Twitter spokeswoman Liz Kelley said the tweet “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.”

Facebook removes Trump ads with symbol once used by Nazis to designate political prisoners

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said, “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."

A Trump campaign spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While many children have had milder symptoms from the virus, researchers have found they are still able to catch and spread it to other people, including adults at home and in school settings, such as teachers.

“They get it and can transmit it, but they get it less and transmit it less than adults,” said Theodore Ruel, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Global Health at the University of California at San Francisco. He said the word “immunity” is incorrect in this context but that children, especially younger ones, are less of a risk than adults.

More than 240,000 children in the United States have been documented to have covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Around 300 children have contracted a rare inflammatory disease due to covid-19 called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, and six have died.

Ruel said that with proper protocols, including masking and social distancing, and a working testing and contact-tracing program, schools for younger children could be safe enough to reopen.

“A well-run school is going to be just as safe if not safer than a grocery store,” he said. "But we have to make it safe for both [teachers and kids], and we have to recognize it is a risk for both if we want to reopen schools.”

Twitter penalizes Donald Trump Jr. for posting hydroxychloroquine misinformation amid coronavirus pandemic

As the start of the school year rolls around, school districts across the country have been torn on how to proceed. With rising covid-19 case numbers across the country, many large districts have decided to start the year virtually, with online classes. Others have opted to go ahead with in-person classes, like in Georgia.

Teachers are being ordered to report for work at Gwinnett County Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, ahead of a digital semester. It has reported that 260 district employees had tested positive for the virus or been exposed to someone who had.

Facebook previously deactivated dozens of ads placed by President Trump’s reelection campaign that included a symbol once used by the Nazis to designate political prisoners in concentration camps.

The company has faced increasing pressure to better moderate its site. More than 1,000 advertisers have joined a boycott regarding its civil rights record, including Disney and Verizon. And nearly two dozen state attorneys general sent a letter criticizing the company earlier Wednesday.

The shifts are at least a partial retreat from the company’s traditional deference to speech it deems “newsworthy.” That includes Facebook’s decision to not label or remove a post by Trump that said, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Twitter, which affixed a warning label on a similar post, has been more forceful about responding to what it deemed to be policy violations, including from politicians.

Zuckerberg once wanted to sanction Trump. Then Facebook wrote rules that accommodated him.

Twitter has labeled several tweets from the president for being misleading, including on mail-in ballots being fraudulent. Twitter late last month ordered the president’s son to delete a misleading tweet with hydroxychloroquine misinformation and limited the account for 12 hours.

Zuckerberg faced tough questions from lawmakers a week ago while testifying on Capitol Hill along with other big tech CEOs on antitrust issues. Several Republicans asked him pointed questions regarding whether the company censors conservative voices.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asked Zuckerberg about specific incidents in which the lawmaker alleged that Facebook executives may have used the service to downplay conservative viewpoints.

Zuckerberg said the company aims “to be a platform for all ideas” and that he does not want Facebook to be ideologically biased.

Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.

Big tech vs. the U.S. government: What you need to know

Big tech finds itself in the war path of local and federal government officials

The CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in March on social media’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation.

Read their testimony here: Twitter | Google | Facebook

What is Section 230? The little law that defined how the Internet works.

In October, the heads of Facebook, Google and Twitter testified before the Senate Commerce Committee.

In hopes of ending federal antitrust lawsuits and probes, Facebook offered to help create new competitor

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Google over antitrust violations. | Read the lawsuit

In July, the leaders behind Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, commercial and administrative law.