Facebook announced Monday a major clampdown on the spread of what the tech giant considers to be "false claims" about COVID-19 and vaccines.
Moving forward the company will be removing from its platform any misinformation regarding the coronavirus and vaccines, including claims that the virus was manufactured in a lab, that vaccines are not effective at preventing disease, that it's safer to get the disease than the vaccine, and that vaccines, in general, are toxic, dangerous, or cause autism.
"In addition to sharing reliable information, we are expanding our efforts to remove false claims on Facebook and Instagram about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines and vaccines in general during the pandemic," the company's head of health, Kang-Xing Jin, said in a newsroom update. "Today, following consultations with leading health organizations, including the WHO, we're expanding the list of false claims we will remove to include additional debunked claims about COVID-19 and vaccines."
The exhaustive list of of false claims that are now subject to removal are listed on Facebook's Help Center webpage. It broadly includes any content that downplays the severity of COVID-19 or discourages good health practices such as wearing a mask.
"We will begin enforcing this policy immediately, with a particular focus on Pages, groups and accounts that violate these rules, and we'll continue to expand our enforcement over the coming weeks," Facebook's vice president of Integrity, Guy Rosen, wrote. "Groups, Pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that repeatedly share these debunked claims may be removed altogether."
Rosen added that the company plans to access to credible information by "promot[ing] relevant, authoritative results" when people search for vaccine or coronavirus-related content on the platform.
He noted that content monitoring regarding the coronavirus pandemic has been going on since December, only now the list of false claims has expanded.
The move does mark a significant departure from past actions, however. As the New York Times reported, in the past, the company has opted to "downrank" misinformation about the coronavirus, or push the content lower in people's news feeds. But now the company is taking action by removing such content altogether.
According to the newsroom update, the new action is in response to a ruling by the company's Oversight Board, which found that its rules and standards for health-related misinformation were "inappropriately vague."
The news comes as Facebook and other major social media companies are under intense scrutiny for their censorship practices. If the new action serves as any indication, it appears that Facebook does not intend to relent from engaging in aggressive content suppression.