A fresh spotlight has been thrown on how tech giants police Covid ‘misinformation’ after Dr Antony Fauci questioned whether the virus was man-made in China – a sentiment banned across swathes of social media.
Facebook policies outlining what kinds of ‘misinformation’ its users cannot post about, specifically picks out theories that the virus was ‘man-made’ or ‘manufactured’ – the very theory Fauci was discussing.
At the same time, an Italian journalist claimed last week to have been censored by YouTube over a book which questions whether the virus was engineered in a Wuhan lab, despite America’s top disease expert saying it warrants investigation.
These inconsistencies beg the question whether social media’s ‘misinformation’ witch-hunt has gone too far in trying to prevent the spread of dangerous lies, and actually stifles productive debate instead.
Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti was banned from advertising his book questioning the origins of Covid and criticising China’s response on Google – even as top US disease expert Anthony Fauci says it warrants further investigation
For example, on vaccines: A large number of Facebook policies deal with clear misinformation – such as outlawing claims that jabs contain ‘the mark of the beast’, or turn you into a monkey.
But the site also says it bans ‘claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill or seriously harm people (such as causing blood clots.)’
That is despite the fact that medical regulators in Europe and elsewhere have seen fit to put warnings on AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson jabs saying they can cause blood clots – albeit in vanishingly rare cases.
Meanwhile YouTube also has clear-cut policies banning untruths, such as saying prayer will cure the virus or that Covid isn’t real.
But the site’s policies ban posts questioning the efficacy of masks or debating lockdown measures – even though government guidance on both has changed many times since the start of the pandemic, largely thanks to debate about their benefits.
Separate rules on advertising on YouTube outlaw adverts around ‘sensitive events’ such as Covid, banning anything that ‘potentially profits’ from the event ‘without a benefit to users’ – though what exactly qualifies as a ‘benefit’ is not explained.
It was those advertising rules that Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti fell foul of when adverts for his book – The Infinite Error: The Secret Story Of A Pandemic That Should Have Been Avoided – were ‘blacklisted’ from Google last week.
Google said the video violates the rules because it ‘displays speculative intent or lacks reasonable sensitivity around a global health crisis.’
But Elisabetta Sgarbi, whose company is publishing Gatti’s book on Covid, told Italian news agency Ansa: ‘There is a big difference between “gratuitous offense” and the right to criticize.
‘[The book] documents the responsibilities of the Chinese regime, the allied governments and the WHO in the delayed response to the Covid-19 pandemic… which should have avoided.
Fauci on Sunday admitted he is ‘not convinced’ that Covid occurred in nature, a sentiment that could have seen him banned from Facebook
‘I hope that Google… can help encourage reflection and discussion on the health and human catastrophe that has hit the world.’
Mr Gatti added: ‘I express my full solidarity with colleagues who have been or will be economically damaged, just for giving space to… my research.
‘I hope that Google will revise its position as soon as possible. We already have to put up with the Chinese regime and the consequences of its failure to contain Covid.
‘[Google’s action] it is yet another symptom of a very worrying drift.
‘Once once the infection is overcome with vaccines, as I write in my book, we will have to defend our democracies from totalitarianism and the digital monopoly.’
Other policies that might get adverts banned from Google are ones which ‘appear to profit from a tragic event with no discernible benefit to users’, adverts selling products ‘which may be in insufficient supply’, and those which ‘claim victims of a sensitive event were responsible for their own tragedy.’
Both Facebook and Google say the policies were created in response to the spread of misinformation as the pandemic spread, and aim to direct people towards reliable information and stop the spread of claims that could cause harm.
But others, such as former New York Times journalist Alex Berenson – whose own books were temporarily banned from Amazon or questioning the science behind masks and lockdowns – say they amount to censorship.
‘Big Tech censorship of opposing views on COVID is a huge problem, and it’s part of an even bigger problem,’ he said.
‘This isn’t about COVID, it’s about whether or not as a society we’re going to allow people who have views that are sort of outside what the mainstream media want you to believe, to present those views,’ he continued.
‘It’s becoming harder and harder to have honest conversations.
Facebook specifically outlaws posts that speculate Covid was ‘man-made’, but will allow users to say it leaked from a lab provided they don’t say it was made there (file image, Wuhan lab)
Last year, Google was criticised after directing search engine users away from the Great Barrington Declaration – a petition started by prominent academics urging a re-think on lockdowns.
Instead of being shown the petition itself at the top of search queries, Google users were instead shown articles and pages critical of it, according to Spiked.
Google also said in October last year that it had pulled more than 200,000 videos from YouTube, including one from Scott Atlas – who at the time was a physician advising the US government.
Meanwhile Facebook has also been pulling down pages that question whether lockdowns are effective, while attaching fact-check labels and warning notices to some news articles.
The company says it has removed over 18 million pieces of content across Facebook and Instagram globally since the start of the pandemic for violating its rules, and has displayed warning labels on 167million pieces of COVID-19 content on Facebook.
While Amazon refused to disclose its policies around censorship at the time, Google and Facebook both publish detailed lists about what users can and cannot post.
The firms say they are acting to prevent the spread of ‘misinformation’ – but what exactly constitutes misinformation is something they cannot agree even among themselves.
For example, Facebook’s policy specifically bans any post that says coronavirus is ‘man-made’ or ‘manufactured’ – though users are allow to speculate that the virus may have leaked from a lab.
Google-owned YouTube’s policy, meanwhile, makes no mention of banning videos discussing ‘man-made’ Covid.
However, YouTube does ban posts that discuss the use of Hydroxychloroquine as a Covid treatment – something that Facebook does not specifically outlaw.
Both sites ban content discussing whether face masks help stop the spread of Covid and whether social distancing is effective.