Artificial IntelligenceCryptocurrencyMetaverseCybersecurityTech Forward

Facebook considers relaxing COVID-19 misinformation policies

July 26, 2022, 3:43 PM UTC
Mark Zuckerberg, via video, speaks at Into the Metaverse: Creators, Commerce and Connection during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Austin Convention Center on March 15, 2022 in Austin, Texas.
Samantha Burkardt—Getty Images for SXSW

Facebook was flooded with misinformation about COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic and quickly adopted a policy to remove it. But as the virus evolves, the company is wondering if it should be less hands on.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has approached its Oversight Board, seeking advice on whether the current policy is still appropriate.

“Under this policy, we began removing false claims about masks, social distancing, vaccines and more,” the company wrote in a blog post. “Now that the COVID-19 situation has evolved, we’re seeking the Oversight Board’s opinion on whether we should change the way we address this type of misinformation through other means, like labeling or demoting it.”

To date, Meta says it has removed 25 million pieces of content surrounding COVID-19, ranging from posts about masks and social distancing to the transmissibility of the virus.

As vaccine rates grow, though, the company is questioning if it needs to police posts quite as thoroughly.

“In many countries, where vaccination rates are relatively high, life is increasingly returning to normal,” it said. “But this isn’t the case everywhere and the course of the pandemic will continue to vary significantly around the globe — especially in countries with low vaccination rates and less developed healthcare systems. It is important that any policy Meta implements be appropriate for the full range of circumstances countries find themselves in.”

It wouldn’t be the first softening of the policy. Last May, Facebook lifted a ban on claims that COVID-19 was man-made.

The Oversight Board comprises 20 outside experts and civic leaders who have a broad range of expertise. All the board’s decisions are “binding,” according to Meta and the board, and the company has seven days to implement any rulings after a decision is announced.

The Oversight Board is most famous for its ruling that Facebook’s suspension of former President Donald Trump was justified—though it said the “indefinite suspension” wasn’t.

The question of how the company will monitor COVID posts comes as a contingent of right wing extremists have accused social media sites of censorship.

“Meta is fundamentally committed to free expression and we believe our apps are an important way for people to make their voices heard,” the company said. “Resolving the inherent tensions between free expression and safety isn’t easy, especially when confronted with unprecedented and fast-moving challenges, as we have been in the pandemic. That’s why we are seeking the advice of the Oversight Board.”

Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.