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Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Remove Posts From Bolsonaro

Kurt Wagner

(Bloomberg) -- Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google’s YouTube have all removed posts shared by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for including coronavirus misinformation that violates the social media companies’ rules against posting harmful content.

Facebook said it took down a video on Monday that had been shared to both Facebook and Instagram, in which Bolsonaro said the anti-malaria prescription drug hydroxychloroquine was an effective treatment for Covid-19. Twitter earlier had removed two tweets that also showed video of Bolsonaro praising hydroxychloroquine and encouraging the end of social distancing. On Tuesday morning, YouTube also said it had pulled two videos from Bolsonaro’s official account for violating its policies.

Small studies testing the effects of hydroxychloroquine on Covid-19 patients have had mixed results, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says the drug is “currently under investigation in clinical trials” for use as a treatment for the virus. U.S. President Donald Trump has also praised the drug, which was given emergency FDA approval to be prescribed to Covid-19 patients, though scientists have criticized the move as premature.

Facebook has a policy against sharing posts that could cause users physical harm, a spokesperson said. Twitter, too, has a policy that requires people to remove tweets that recommend cures or advice that goes against the recommendations of public health authorities.

“Twitter recently announced the expansion of its rules to cover content that could be against public health information provided by official sources and could put people at greater risk of transmitting Covid-19,” a Twitter spokesman said. Bolsonaro declined to comment on the Twitter removal when speaking to journalists earlier Monday.

YouTube, like other social media sites, has tried to curb the flow of disinformation about the virus in recent weeks by promoting what it calls “authoritative” videos. But it has rarely taken action against videos from elected officials.

“Since early February, we have manually reviewed and removed thousands of videos related to dangerous or misleading coronavirus information,” Farshad Shadloo, a YouTube spokesman, said in an email. He declined to identify the two videos removed.

Twitter and Facebook have also taken a stronger stance on coronavirus misinformation than other types of controversial content, including some political postings. Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this month that fighting medical misinformation is easier because companies can follow clear guidance from the World Health Organization on what can be defined as “harmful,” instead of deciding as a company in a way that could be considered biased or restrictive of free speech.

“This a very different dynamic than trying to be referee of political speech,” Zuckerberg said at the time.

(Updates with details on YouTube’s removal of Bolsonaro videos.)

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