By Thomas Catenacci
Social media companies have policed coronavirus-related content based on information from top health organizations, even as those organizations have contradicted themselves.
Facebook and Google instituted policies early in the pandemic restricting user content shared on their platforms to information that doesn’t contradict World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) findings. However, the organizations have contradicted, backtracked or retracted their own findings throughout the pandemic.
Facebook’s policy states that the site “will debunk common myths that have been identified by the World Health Organization.” Shortly after coronavirus was declared a pandemic, Facebook announced its “Coronavirus Information Center,” which curates updates from “organizations such as the World Health Organization.”
“We’re removing known harmful misinformation related to COVID-19, and when someone taps on a hashtag related to COVID-19, we show resources from WHO, CDC and local health authorities,” Facebook subsidiary Instagram’s policy stated.
Google’s policy prohibited YouTube content creators from sharing information “that contradicts the World Health Organization (WHO),” the tech giant’s “Medical Misinformation Policy” said.
Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Reddit and YouTube issued a joint statement in March 2020, promising to combat coronavirus misinformation and to share updates from “government healthcare agencies.”
However, both the CDC and WHO have shared information throughout the pandemic that the organizations were forced to retract.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
At the outset of the pandemic, U.S. health agencies led by the CDC insisted that Americans shouldn’t wear masks. Instead, officials recommended that the public use tissues to cover coughs and wash their hands often.
“CDC does not recommend the use of masks by the general public,” former CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in March 2020.
Health officials even suggested that masks could make people more susceptible to contracting the virus.
“You can increase your risk of getting it by wearing a mask if you are not a health care provider,” former Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News.
But the CDC suddenly reversed its stance in April, recommending Americans wear cloth masks in public, according to NPR. The masks could be used as a “voluntary public health measure,” the health agency said.
In addition, the CDC has recently endorsed double masking, or wearing both a surgical and cloth mask, while in public. Medical experts from Johns Hopkins University, though, have said double masking is “not necessary.”
In September, the CDC altered its recommendation that asymptomatic individuals who had close contact with someone who tested positive shouldn’t get tested, Politico reported. The CDC changed its guidance to recommend testing for all people who may have the virus.
“Due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, this guidance further reinforces the need to test asymptomatic persons, including close contacts of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the updated guidance stated, according to Politico.
“Some infections can be spread by exposure to virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours,” the new guidance said.
World Health Organization
Top WHO officials said in the early days of the outbreak that coronavirus travel bans were unnecessary.
“WHO does not recommend any specific measures for travelers,” the WHO said in a Jan. 5 statement. In case of symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness either during or after travel, travelers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share travel history with their healthcare provider.”
On Jan. 30, despite having reported cases in multiple countries days before, the WHO’s coronavirus emergency committee said, “The Committee does not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available.”
The WHO also declared there was no evidence of human-to-human spread of coronavirus early in the pandemic.
Following its investigations into the coronavirus outbreak in China, the WHO said on Jan. 14 that there “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”
On Jan. 22, the WHO said that there was, in fact, human-to-human transmission in Wuhan. Despite the new findings, however, the WHO said on Jan. 23 there “no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China.”
On Jan. 24, the WHO’s official coronavirus report confirmed cases in six countries outside of China including South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
One week later, on Jan. 30, the WHO said that there “has been human-to-human transmission in 3 countries outside China.”
Like the CDC, the WHO contradicted itself on mask wearing.
Between January and May, when the rate of coronavirus deaths per day rapidly climbed, the WHO said masks were unnecessary for the general public. The WHO’s official guidance said medical masks should be “reserved for health care workers.”
“The use of medical masks in the community may create a false sense of security,” the WHO’s April 6 guidance said.
On June 5, the WHO released guidance that recommended mask wearing to the general public.
“WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a June 5 news conference.
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