Face­book, Twit­ter pe­nal­ize Trump over posts

They say he, cam­paign broke their rules with mis­in­for­ma­tion on virus

The Washington Post - - ECONOMY & BUSINESS - BY HEATHER KELLY heather.kelly@wash­post.com Faiz Sid­diqui con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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” to 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.” He also said they have stronger im­mune sys­tems.

The twin ac­tions came roughly three months be­fore the elec­tions in which Trump’s per­for­mance on the 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.

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 said un­der pres­sure in late June that the com­pany would re­move posts that in­cite vi­o­lence or at­tempt to sup­press vot­ing — even from po­lit­i­cal lead­ers — and that the com­pany would 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 that 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. 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 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 that 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 as a re­sult of covid-19 called multi-sys­tem 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.”

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, as in Ge­or­gia. Gwin­nett County Pub­lic Schools, the state’s largest school dis­trict, 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 not to 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.

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

Jabin BOTSFORD/THE Wash­ing­ton POST

Pres­i­dent Trump ex­its Wed­nes­day’s coro­n­avirus brief­ing at the White House. Posts of a clip of him say­ing chil­dren are “al­most im­mune” to covid-19 trig­gered ac­tion by the so­cial me­dia gi­ants.

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