Having spent the weekend receiving treatment for Covid-19 at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on Tuesday Trump posted on both platforms that the US doesn’t shut down for the seasonal flu, though the illness kills many people every year even with a vaccine.
“Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!” he argued.
This triggered Twitter to label it “misleading and potentially harmful information” related to Covid-19. One has to click past that notice to even view the tweet, and the replies, retweets, and likes have been disabled. Facebook, on the other hand, removed it outright.
“We remove incorrect information about the severity of Covid-19, and have now removed this post,” Andy Stone, Facebook’s policy communications manager, said in a statement.
This is the second time Facebook has deleted a post of Trump’s related to Covid-19. The first was in early August, when the president said children were “virtually immune” to the effects of the virus. The platform decided “virtually” wasn’t enough of a qualifier and claiming anyone is “immune” was wrong.
Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube – owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google – have been censoring content they deem contradictory to official information about the virus since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic in March. Critics have pointed out that applying this consistently would mean censoring the WHO, as its own positions on the virus have evolved over time.
While the First Amendment to the US Constitution bars the government from censorship, ostensibly private platforms such as social media companies have broad discretion in removing content. A key provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Section 230, gives them legal protection as ‘platforms’ and not ‘publishers,’ and allows them to remove “objectionable” content without precisely defining it.
Trump let Facebook and Twitter know exactly what he thought about the censorship, tweeting after noon on Tuesday, “REPEAL SECTION 230!!!”
REPEAL SECTION 230!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 6, 2020
However, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon, with Democrats holding the majority in the House of Representatives and Trump’s own Republicans less than enthusiastic to crack down on Silicon Valley in this way.
Back in May, the president signed an executive order instructing the federal bureaucracy to interpret Section 230 in the strictest sense of “in good faith,” and potentially cracking down on platforms that behave like publishers. However, there has been no enforcement of this so far.
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