Social media giant Facebook on Thursday said it is focused on removing misinformation around COVID-19, including false claims related to vaccines, as part of its efforts to ensure user safety protection. Facebook Product Policy Manager, Misinformation Alice Budisatrijo said while it isn't appropriate for a company to decide whether the information is true or false, it is essential that people have access to credible information..
"We don't believe that it's appropriate for a US technology company, or anyone to determine what is true and what is false. So, whether it's private companies, governments, if any single actor gets to decide what's true and false, this creates potential overreach and unhealthy power imbalance," she said during a virtual briefing. Also, there can be different degrees of truth or people can have different opinions about what is true or false, Budisatrijo said.
"However, we take our responsibility seriously…We are a service for more than 2 billion people around the world. So we know how essential it is for people to have access to credible information, and for us to remove harmful content," she said. Referring to Facebook's community standards as a "living document", Budisatrijo said these guidelines constantly evolve to keep pace with changing online behaviours.
"…as part of our response to the COVID pandemic, we have clarified our policy guidelines to apply our policy to harmful claims related to this global health emergency. This started since January last year at the beginning of the pandemic and it has continuously evolved," she said. Budisatrijo explained that Facebook removes COVID-19 misinformation that could contribute to physical harm, including false cures, false treatments, false information about the availability of essential services, such as hospitals, hospital beds, or the location and severity of the outbreak.
"We also prohibit false claims related to COVID vaccines, because especially now that we know the COVID vaccines are starting to get approved and rolled out in many countries. So claims about the safety, efficacy, serious side effects, ingredients and conspiracy theories about the vaccines, will remove them as well," she said. Budisatrijo noted that between March and October last year, the social media platform – which works with a number of third-party fact-checkers – removed 12 million pieces of COVID-19 misinformation that fall under these claims.
Besides, around 167 million pieces of content had a warning label applied related to COVID-19 misinformation. The company said nearly 95 per cent of the time people who saw warning labels around COVID-19 misinformation, did not click through the links and were therefore not exposed to false information.
The executive acknowledged that there is still scope for further enhancing these efforts. "Even with the combination of artificial intelligence and the human reviewers that we have all over the world, we can never 100 per cent guarantee that content that violates our policies is not on the platform," she said. On the decision to remove former US President Donald Trump from the platform, Budisatrijo said no politician was exempt from Facebook's community standards, including those on violence and incitement.
She said people should be able to see content from politicians, especially in democratic societies, but if the content violates community standards and has offline risks that needs to be removed.