On August 5, Twitter and Facebook took action against posts by President Donald Trump and his campaign that featured video of him making false claims about children and the coronavirus, alongside other lies, from an interview Trump gave to the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends. This morning, Fox & Friends attacked Twitter and Facebook for removing the video of the show’s interview with the president.
This is the second incident in less than two weeks that has spotlighted these disparate standards toward coronavirus misinformation. In the first, many social platforms removed a viral video of fringe doctors promoting the disproven drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, while Fox News disingenuously cried “censorship” and promoted the video.
While social media giants’ containment of COVID-19 misinformation has been shaky at best, they have at least been enforced in these two cases. This is a stark contrast between their efforts and the anything-goes approach of Fox News.
Months into the pandemic, the network is a central hub for spreading politically motivated misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic — including pushing evidence-free “cures” for the disease, hiding bad economic news for the benefit of Trump, and undermining important mitigation tactics like testing and mask wearing.
Facebook and other social media platforms have struggled to enforce policies against the spread of coronavirus misinformation during the pandemic, including content that opposed social distancing orders or mask wearing and videos that spread conspiracy theories about the origins and effects of the virus.
At the same time, social media companies taking action against COVID-19 misinformation must not target the work of journalists and others who are covering these lies. Twitter locked multiple accounts of those reporting on the president’s lies about COVID-19 and children this week.
This type of coverage of the president’s statements and policies during the coronavirus pandemic is crucial to refuting and debunking misinformation about this deadly disease -- and it is even more necessary when that misinformation is being spread by the highest-rated cable news network in the country. (This problem with tech companies targeting people who report about disinformation goes back long before the pandemic. For instance, in 2018 YouTube removed a Media Matters video targeting the lies about the Sandy Hook mass shooting by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.)
Unless Fox News implements some standards on COVID-19 misinformation — and the network’s track record on conspiracy theories suggests it won’t, even as it keeps many employees out of the office — Fox will continue to be on the receiving end of enforcement efforts by social media companies. And public health will continue to suffer.