Meta rolls back COVID-19 misinformation rules in many countries

The policy will remain in locales that still officially deem COVID-19 to be a public health emergency.

Dado Ruvic / reuters

Meta is rolling back COVID-19 misinformation rules for Instagram and Facebook in countries that no longer deem the pandemic to be a national emergency. The policy will no longer apply in the US, along with some other territories.

Last July, Meta asked its Oversight Board for its opinion on the misinformation policy after noting that the pandemic had "evolved." It took some time for the Oversight Board to weigh in, but in April, the group suggested that Meta should keep removing false claims about COVID-19 that are “likely to directly contribute to the risk of imminent and significant physical harm." The Oversight Board also told the company to "reassess" the types of pandemic claims that it removes under the policy.

In addition, the advisory group suggested that Meta make preparations ahead of the World Health Organization nixing the emergency status of COVID-19 "to protect freedom of expression and other human rights in these new circumstances." The WHO lifted its COVID-19 emergency designation in May and Meta has now made its response to the Oversight Board's recommendations.

"We will take a more tailored approach to our COVID-19 misinformation rules consistent with the Board’s guidance and our existing policies. In countries that have a COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, we will continue to remove content for violating our COVID-19 misinformation policies given the risk of imminent physical harm," Meta wrote in an updated blog post. "We are consulting with health experts to understand which claims and categories of misinformation could continue to pose this risk. Our COVID-19 misinformation rules will no longer be in effect globally as the global public health emergency declaration that triggered those rules has been lifted."

Soon after the onset of the pandemic, social media platforms faced pressure to combat COVID-19 misinformation that people were spreading, such as inaccurate claims about vaccines. Many — including Meta, Twitter and YouTube — established policies to tackle COVID-19 falsehoods.

Those rules have evolved over time. For instance, in May 2021, Meta said it would no longer remove claims that COVID-19 was "man-made." As the Oversight Board noted last year, Meta removed 27 million Facebook and Instagram posts that contained COVID-19 misinformation between March 2020 and July 2022.

Twitter stopped enforcing its COVID-19 misinformation policy in November, not long after Elon Musk took over the company and laid off thousands of workers. Meanwhile, YouTube recently updated its misinformation policy to no longer prohibit videos containing 2020 election denialism.

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