Social media's position as arbiter of truth once again in the spotlight
Facebook has reversed its policy banning posts suggesting Covid-19 emerged from a laboratory amid renewed debate over the origins of the virus, raising fresh questions about social media's role in policing misinformation.
The latest move by Facebook, announced late Wednesday on its website, highlights the challenge for the world's largest social network of rooting out false and potentially harmful content while remaining open for discourse.
"In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of Covid-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that Covid-19 is man-made," the statement said.
The new statement updates guidance from Facebook in February when it said it would remove false claims about the novel coronavirus.
The move followed President Joe Biden's directive to US intelligence agencies to investigate competing theories on how the virus first emerged – through animal contact at a market in Wuhan, China, or through accidental release from a research laboratory in the same city.
Facebook's move, which could impact what some three billion users of its apps see, highlights the controversy over social media's aggressive efforts to root out misinformation on topics where facts may be evolving.
"Information changes over time, and responsible organizations – social media outlets and fact-checkers alike – make decisions based on the best information available but remain open and willing to change their evaluations as new information arises," Rebekah Tromble, director of Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics at George Washington University told AFP.