Facebook has reported the organization bans protests which violate social distancing rules. This morning, CNN reporter Donie O’Sullivan reported that protests for anti-quarantine demonstrations in California, New Jersey, and Nebraska had all been dropped after Facebook consulted with state governments.
The organization is also currently seeking advice on whether demonstrations in New York, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania breach current shelter-in-place orders. “Events defying the guidelines of governments on social distancing are not permitted on Facebook,” a spokesperson told The Verge.
Facebook emphasized that it relies not on editorial judgment but on government laws. “If government bans the event during this period, we’re allowing it to be organized on Facebook,” the spokeswoman said. But organizers can not support meetings that violate guidelines on hygiene, and they can not discourage precautions against transmitting the new coronavirus.
In an interview on Good Morning America Mark Zuckerberg reiterated the distinction. “It’s important for people to be able to discuss policies because, you know, there’s more to this line than usual political discourse,” he said. “I think a lot of the stuff people say is incorrect about a health emergency like this can be categorized as false misinformation.”
Since January, Facebook has said it eliminates statements that are “designed to prevent care or take adequate measures.” Facebook has not provided specifics about actual incidents that have been deleted.
Several organizations have either organized or held demonstrations recently over social distancing and shelter-in-place laws, egged on by President Donald Trump, who last week tweeted calls to “liberate” Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia. BuzzFeed states that all of these gatherings were organized with the support of the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which helped organize a major rally last week in Lansing, Michigan. Facebook pages of these organizations call the coronavirus “a very real virus” and promote adequate steps of hygiene, such as hand washing.
Nevertheless, protesters in Lansing disregarded calls for them to remain in their cars during the gathering, increasing the possibility of contagion. Some activities have become more dismissive of the threat of the virus, such as a rally held in Texas by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who was previously suspended for promoting bogus COVID-19 cures.
More Americans are more concerned about states unnecessarily repealing shelter-in-place rules than waiting too long, a new Pew Research Center survey reveals. And the Internet and news traces of such demonstrations may be larger than the incidents themselves. Kata Hall, head of communications for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, reported on Twitter that more media requests had been obtained from a demonstration than from participants.
Yet Facebook has taken heat for failing to respond proactively enough to scams, hoaxes and other virus-related misinformation. Today, it is attempting to walk a fine line between suppressing offensive content and preventing political protest censorship.