Facebook and Twitter are committed to protecting their networks from misinformation about the coronavirus to protect the public's health. But the sites were tested on Monday when President Trump announced that people shouldn't be afraid of the disease.
“I feel really good! Do not be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life, "Trump wrote on his Facebook and Twitter pages, saying he would be released from Walter Reed Military Hospital after receiving treatment there for Covid-19 in the past few days. "I feel better than 20 years ago!"
Medical experts immediately had problems with the site. More than 200,000 Americans have died from the virus, and more than 35 million cases have been reported worldwide. Dr. Bob Wachter, chairman of the medical department at the University of California at San Francisco, said Trump's tweet was "breathtakingly callous, inhuman and counterproductive". Dr. Bernard P. Chang of Columbia University's Emergency Medicine Department warned that people should continue to fear the virus.
However, Facebook and Twitter did nothing about Mr. Trump's post, despite the fact that the companies released their coronavirus misinformation guidelines.
Facebook has stated that it does not allow coronavirus posts that can lead to direct physical harm and that people will be referred to a Covid-19 information center. Twitter also only removes posts that have been shown to contain incorrect information with the "highest probability of causing physical harm".
These details are important for Facebook and Twitter. They pay close attention to whether or not Mr Trump is giving a specific instruction or order to engage in an activity that could put people at immediate risk. When he suggested in April that experts consider whether people could inject disinfectant to fight off the coronavirus, Facebook and Twitter used the same yardstick and took no action to remove clips and posts about the unproven treatment.
Mr Trump and his social media director, Dan Scavino, have been sticking closely to what's allowed on various social media accounts for the past four years, seemingly postponing the envelope as much as possible without the tech companies to encourage punitive action.
Facebook did not respond to a request for a comment. A Twitter spokesperson said the tweet did not violate company rules as it did not contain a clear call to action that could potentially cause harm in the real world.
By Monday evening, Mr. Trump's tweet and Facebook post on Covid-19 had been viewed by more than a million people on both networks. Mr Trump later posted a video reiterating that people should not let the virus dominate their lives. "Get out there," he said. "The vaccines are coming right now."