Update (5/5/21): On May 4, Facebook permanently banned LifeSiteNews’ page for violating the platform’s COVID-19 and vaccine policies.
On February 10, YouTube banned right-wing site LifeSiteNews and removed its videos after it repeatedly posted disinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, which violated the platform’s medical misinformation policy. However, LifeSiteNews remains on Facebook, where it regularly spreads dangerous falsehoods about the pandemic to its 210,000 followers -- even though Facebook, like YouTube, has policies prohibiting it.
A YouTube spokesperson explained its decision to Vice:
“In accordance with our longstanding strikes system, we terminated the channel LifeSiteNews Media for repeatedly violating our COVID-19 misinformation policy, which prohibits content that promotes prevention methods that contradict local health authorities or WHO,” Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokesperson, told VICE News in an email.
“Any channel that violates our COVID-19 misinformation policy will receive a strike, which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from YouTube.”
LifeSiteNews’ presence and posts on Facebook could lead users to reject vaccines and mask-wearing and inspire other dangerous practices that put lives in danger and exacerbate the coronavirus pandemic.
Facebook has specific policies prohibiting medical misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines
On February 8, The New York Times reported that Facebook “plans to remove posts with erroneous claims about vaccines from across its platform.” This news built on the platform’s December announcement that it would ban misinformation specifically about COVID-19 vaccines. In October, the platform banned paid anti-vaccination ads.
Facebook’s medical misinformation policy states that it will remove “false claims about these vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts on Facebook and Instagram” and “conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines that we know today are false.”
Additionally, Facebook outlines detailed policies protecting users from COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation on the platform, prohibiting “false claims about face masks, social distancing and testing,” as well as “false claims about the vaccines or vaccination programs that public health experts have advised us could lead to COVID-19 vaccine rejection.”
Facebook is allowing LifeSiteNews to break its rules and spread harmful COVID-19 misinformation
Media Matters found many instances in which LifeSiteNews’ posts clearly violate Facebook’s COVID-19 policies -- including posts linking to the videos that resulted in the outlet’s removal from YouTube.
Here are some of the countless posts on LifeSiteNews’ Facebook page that violate Facebook’s misinformation policies:
- On February 4, it posted the debunked conspiracy theory claiming that Dr. Anthony Fauci and the U.S. government are linked to “funding [the] origin of man-made COVID-19 in China.” Facebook’s policies ban claims that “COVID-19 is manmade,” including “claims that it was created by an individual, government, or country.”
- LifeSiteNews’ Facebook page also posted an article on February 2 that claimed the COVID-19 vaccine “does not prevent you from getting it” and “does not give immunity. Does not eliminate the virus. Does not prevent death.” Facebook’s policies ban “claims about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, including: Claims that COVID-19 vaccines do not provide any immunity to people” and “claims that COVID-19 vaccines are not effective in preventing COVID-19.”
- LifeSiteNews also made a post on Facebook with misleading claims about side effects of COVID-19 vaccines, suggesting that said vaccines could “cause blood clots, brain inflammation and heart attacks.” Similarly, it suggested nursing home residents were actually being killed by vaccines. Facebook’s policies ban “claims about the safety or serious side effects of COVID-19 vaccines, including: Claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill or seriously harm people.”
These are just a few of LifeSiteNews’ many posts that directly violate Facebook’s COVID-19 policies. Its Facebook page has also promoted claims from anti-vaccine group Children’s Health Defense, and LifeSiteNews has made several posts that misspelled or adapted the words “vaccine” and “COVID” -- a tactic sometimes used to avoid content moderation and evade enforcement of Facebook policies. Notably, at least two posts about COVID-19 vaccines remain on LifeSiteNews’ Facebook page despite the platform labeling them as “false information checked by independent fact-checkers.”
Facebook has failed to curb the spread of misinformation about COVID-19, but it can do so with LifeSiteNews
LifeSiteNews’ use of Facebook to spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic does not occur in a vacuum. As Media Matters has previously reported, Facebook has enabled coronavirus and vaccine misinformation to spread rapidly, including in groups on the site. This is especially concerning as LifeSiteNews is hosting a February 19 webinar on “questions surrounding what vaccines, masks, and lockdowns are really doing to the human body” as well as “the numerous deaths and adverse reactions to the COVID vaccines,” which it has promoted on Facebook; it is unclear if it will also be streamed on the platform.
It’s time for Facebook to follow YouTube and remove LifeSiteNews for repeatedly violating the platform’s policies against COVID-19 misinformation. To do anything less is to continue putting lives at risk.