Facebook and COVID-19 misinformation

You might have seen in the news yesterday that Federal MP Craig Kelly’s Facebook page had been taken down. This came after Kelly had been repeatedly spreading misinformation on COVID-19.

Since the pandemic began (and well before that), Facebook has been the perfect breeding place for COVID-19 misinformation to spread and thrive. That type of content has had significant engagement and has reached large audiences. There has been plenty of discourse around what the social media giant is doing to combat the issue. Let’s take a look at what’s happened with Facebook and misinformation specifically on COVID-19.

What has Facebook actually done?
Facebook has specific guidelines dedicated to combating the spread of misinformation of COVID-19. Pandemic misinformation on Facebook includes, but it is not limited to, information containing:

  • COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured
  • Vaccines are not effective at preventing the disease they are meant to protect against
  • It’s safer to get the disease than to get the vaccine
  • Vaccines are toxic, dangerous or cause autism

It also has general misinformation guidelines including, “disrupting economic incentives for people, pages and domains that propagate misinformation”. The platform has vowed to remove posts that contain that type of information, and repeat offenders will be permanently removed (like Kelly).

The platform also implemented notifications and explainer information on the credibility of information. You can read more about thathere.

Whether Facebook remains firm on its policies is up to them. Considering the platform is swamped with misinformation, the realities of these guidelines being upheld for every post with misinformation is slim.

Let’s take a look at some arguments.  

For banning:
People in favour of banning misinformation believe it can assist with public health and safety as it ensures that all information posted on the platform is rooted in credible, science-backed data.

Against banning:
Those who are against social media giants taking down accounts (like Kelly) believe it is an act of censorship. Kelly argues that Facebook’s decision “shut down debate” and that misinformation was a term used to silence opinion.

“It’s a violation of the principles of free speech and quite frankly I’m absolutely outraged by it” — Craig Kelly

But is banning an account a violation of free speech?
Constitution wise — no. ‘Freedom of speech’ is meant to protect individuals from government censorship. Not privately owned platforms like Facebook. Private companies are free to ban whatever accounts they want. Australia doesn’t actually technically have freedom of speech written in the Constitution anyway, but the High Court of Australia has ruled that implied freedom of political communication exists as a part of the system of representative and responsible government created by the Constitution. 

When a user creates a social media account, the user agrees to the guidelines when accepting the terms and conditions. Remember the Facebook guidelines from above? Kelly agreed to that. He was in violation of Facebook’s rules, and his account got taken down.

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