San Francisco (AFP)
Facebook and Twitter targeted US President Donald Trump and his campaign on Wednesday with a video post in which he claimed children are “almost immune” to the coronavirus, a claim they say amounts to “disinformation.”
In an extraordinary move, Facebook deleted the clip from the president’s account – the first time it deleted any of its posts for breaking its content rules.
The video – an excerpt from a Fox News interview – “includes false claims that a group of people are immune to COVID-19 which is a violation of our harmful COVID disinformation policies,” he told the ‘AFP a spokesperson for Facebook.
Twitter meanwhile said it blocked Trump’s official campaign account on a tweet containing the same video, in which Trump pleads for the reopening of American schools in September.
A spokesperson for the San Francisco-based service told AFP the tweet was “in violation of Twitter’s rules on COVID-19 disinformation,” adding that the campaign would have to remove it before it could tweet again.
Shortly after, the @TeamTrump account was active, suggesting that the disputed video had been deleted.
“Another day, yet another demonstration of Silicon Valley’s blatant bias against this president, where the rules are only enforced one way,” Deputy National Press Secretary for the Trump campaign, Courtney Parella, said in a statement.
“The president was stating a fact that children are less susceptible to coronavirus,” she said. “Social media companies are not the arbiter of truth. ”
– Deeply contentious –
Health officials have urged people of all age groups to protect themselves from exposure to the coronavirus.
Trump defended his comments on the virus’s effect on children when challenged during a White House press briefing earlier Wednesday.
“I’m talking about (being immune) to serious illness,” Trump said.
“If you look at children, I mean they are able to get rid of them very easily. ”
The likelihood of children contracting or spreading the coronavirus has become a deeply contentious issue in the United States, with the reopening of schools key to allowing many parents to return to work.
Trump has called for the reopening of businesses and schools as part of a campaign to revive the U.S. economy, whose health will play a major role in the next presidential election.
A growing number of U.S. school districts, however, opted against in-person classes in September, choosing to stay online only until the pandemic subsided.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that children appear to transmit COVID-19 less than adults and that many schools may reopen in the coming months provided they take precautions such as social distancing and monitoring rates of local transmission.
Children are known to be much less likely to become seriously ill or die from the virus: Less than 1% of children who test positive for COVID-19 eventually die, according to a European study published in June.
The study authors said the true percentage is likely even much lower, as many children with mild or no symptoms would not have been tested at all.
– Medical speculation –
Facebook’s move came as it faces intense pressure to tackle disinformation – which flourished during the pandemic – including from world leaders, until recently protected by its policy of banning the political speech.
A coalition of activists have urged Facebook to be more aggressive in removing hateful content and disinformation – with 1,000 advertisers joining a boycott aimed at increasing the pressure.
The social media giant issued a warning last month on a post from Trump claiming that postal voting would lead to a “corrupt” election, and in June it removed Trump’s campaign ads containing a symbol used by Nazi Germany.
Trump has been accused on several occasions of spreading false information about the coronavirus pandemic – which has killed more than 150,000 Americans – including the now infamous thought that victims of the virus may be given injections of disinfectant .
After a brief change in tone last month, he’s recently returned to medical speculation, criticizing his own virus expert – and praising an eccentric preacher-doctor touting conspiracy theories.
Last week, Twitter took the rare step of removing clips tweeted by Trump from a video – previously deleted by Facebook – in which physician-preacher Stella Immanuel and a group of medics proclaimed that masks are unnecessary and that the hydroxychloroquine can beat the coronavirus.
© 2020 AFP