Facebook took down a post from President Donald Trump on Tuesday that compared the coronavirus to the flu and argued that the United States should learn to live with both illnesses.
“Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu,” the president wrote on his Facebook page. “Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!”
Facebook’s COVID-19 misinformation policies, introduced in March, state that the company will remove misinformation about the coronavirus when it could contribute to imminent physical harm.
“We remove incorrect information about the severity of COVID-19, and have now removed this post,” Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois said in a statement. She noted that Facebook took action because the president equated the coronavirus to the flu.
As the US heads toward the presidential election, Facebook’s takedown is the latest attempt to stem the misinformation that spews from the account of the most powerful person in the world. It’s the second time the company has taken down content from Trump’s account for misleading information about COVID-19 following an incident in August, in which the president shared a video clip where he said that children were “almost immune” to the coronavirus.
In Tuesday’s post, the president said more than 100,000 people die from the flu every year, a claim contradicted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that 61,000 people died in the US from influenza in the 2017–18 flu season, the highest annual total of the last decade.
It’s unclear what the president was referring to when suggesting “in most population far less lethal!!!” The novel coronavirus has killed more than 210,000 people in the US and infected more than 7 million, including the president, even as most Americans have embraced social distancing and mask wearing.
Following Facebook’s takedown, Twitter placed a warning label on the same message on its platform. In its label, Twitter said Trump’s post violated rules “about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19,” but it allowed it to stay up because it “may be in the public’s interest.”
A Twitter spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Facebook’s move comes after critics and the company’s employees flagged a post from Trump on Monday that said, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” At least two employees flagged the post on Facebook’s internal message boards, according to information shared with BuzzFeed News, noting that it was in possible violation of the company’s rules around coronavirus misinformation and could lead to more harm.
Facebook decided to leave that post up.
The social network’s enforcement, or lack of enforcement, of its own rules on posts by the president has perplexed the public and those inside the company. In May, Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not act against a post from Trump that suggested that state violence would be used against protesters who had taken to the streets in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police.
That decision led to internal strife, a virtual walkout, and some departures within the company.