FB’s verdict on Covid-related false information in Brazil upheld

(IANS) The independent Oversight Board on Thursday upheld Facebook’s decision not to remove a post by a state-level medical council in Brazil saying Covid-19 lockdowns are ineffective.

In March 2021, the Facebook page of a state-level medical council in Brazil posted a picture of a written notice on measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19, entitled “Public note against lockdown”.

“Facebook’s decision to keep the content on the platform was consistent with its content policies,” the board said in a statement.

The notice claimed that lockdowns are ineffective, against fundamental rights in the Constitution and condemned by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It included an alleged quote from Dr David Nabarro, a WHO special envoy for Covid-19, stating that “the lockdown does not save lives and makes poor people much poorer”.

It claimed that the Brazilian state of Amazonas had an increase in deaths and hospital admissions after lockdown as evidence of the failure of lockdown restrictions. It added that lockdowns would lead to greater mental disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, and economic damage, amongst other things.

The effective way to prevent against Covid include education campaigns about hygiene, masks, social distancing, vaccination and government monitoring — but never lockdowns, the notice claimed.

The page has over 10,000 followers. The content was viewed around 32,000 times and shared around 270 times. No users reported the content.

While Facebook took no action against the content, it referred the case to the Board. The content continues to remain on the platform.

According to the Board, the content contained inaccurate information which raises concerns considering the severity of the pandemic in Brazil.

Since the content did not create a risk of imminent harm, it can stay on the platform, it noted.

But, the Board questioned Facebook’s “approach and made recommendations on health misinformation”.

On its part, Facebook informed the Board that it does not consider local context when assessing imminent physical harm. Facebook’s fact-checking partners also did not assess the content although the post was eligible for review.

“Facebook should consider local context: Brazil is among the countries that are most affected by the pandemic, with anti-Covid measures in the country being politicised. The content was also shared by a public institution with a duty to provide reliable information,” the Board said.

The Board recommended Facebook to prioritise the fact-checking of content flagged as health misinformation which has been shared by public authorities, taking into account local context.

Measures like warning labels to show the content is disputed can be used other than removal to counter the spread of Covid-19 misinformation, the Board noted.

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