Will misinformation about Covid-19 soon be allowed again?

To curb the spread of lies and half-truths, Meta targeted false information about the deadly virus during the height of the Corona pandemic. Now, it appears that this will soon come to an end. At least the tech company, which owns social networks like Facebook and Instagram, is currently preparing changes. That should certainly please the ever-growing circle of Corona skeptics and conspiracy theorists.

Meta’s will to fight disinformation weakens

The Corona pandemic was, and is, a hard-hitting experience that I doubt any of us will ever forget. Almost as frightening as the virus itself was the large group of conspiracy theorists who opposed government action. Many of them received the misinformation about Covid-19 through popular social media such as Facebook. The political pressure exerted on social media became all the stronger. As a result, Facebook and Instagram decided to ban a total of 80 claims about the disease itself, the virus and the vaccines that save it.

And the ban has quite obviously borne fruit. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, for example, states that they have deleted 25 million posts since the ban went into effect. But that now appears to be the end of the story. Meta’s management has stated that it now wants to lift the ban on false information. The management would like to receive support from the so-called Meta Oversight Board. This is an independent committee, which is to be used in such complicated cases.

Meta consults in-house “oracle”

Certainly, one would not want to be in the skin of Meta’s bosses at the moment. After all, it is likely to be extremely difficult to find a proper solution in this cause that reconciles all interests. This problem almost always arises for social media in censorship issues. Incidentally, the Meta Oversight Board is not only there to mediate between the tech company and its users as a kind of mediator. On top of that, Meta can consult the board on complicated decisions. Like a kind of modern oracle, it then gives its opinion on the topic, which is by no means binding, however.

The complexity of the case is obvious. Here, too, as so often, free expression of opinion must be given sufficient space. However, Corona is not about mere conspiracy theories like UFOs kept under wraps. When people spread untruths about Covid-19 on social media, it simply endangers the health of users. Indeed, some individuals who come into contact with the untruths embrace them. Now, of course, the question arises whether the situation is currently still so dicey that Meta still has to intervene here as a censorship body.

Meta must weigh freedom of expression against health

In the request Meta made to its Oversight Board, it is clear what is at stake. For example, Nick Clegg, who is in charge of working with Facebook users, so to speak, wrote in a blog post about the concern with which they approached the independent board.

Meta is asking the Oversight Board for advice on whether to keep in place measures against dangerous Covid-19 disinformation introduced under extraordinary circumstances to trigger the pandemic.Nick Clegg of Facebook

In doing so, the decision is likely to lead the way for future similar health emergencies. After all, scientists are already predicting that the Corona pandemic definitely won’t be the last. This makes it all the more important that social networks now think about how to grant freedoms of expression without putting the health of society at too great a risk.

Warning instead of deletion

To the deletion of untrue contributions there is apparently also an alternative. Thus, so-called “labeling” is probably also being openly discussed behind the scenes. This principle relies on a kind of warning notice to alert users that the content of a post is questionable. The idea behind this is not bad. After all, it would provide the social network with a softer solution that does not interfere too severely with users’ freedom of expression. On the other hand, the targeted labeling could also arouse even more interest among users. We are curious to see what Meta’s management will decide. Once again, this example highlights just how big an impact the corona pandemic is having on US tech companies. As a result, Amazon was able to post double profits, especially in the early days, which were characterized by caution and lockdown. Meta, in turn, published an exciting study that clarified user behavior during the global emergency.

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