Facebook has removed a post where President Donald Trump falsely claimed the novel coronavirus was less deadly than an ordinary flu. Earlier today, Trump wrote on Facebook and Twitter that America had “learned to live with” the upcoming flu season, “just like we are learning to live with” COVID-19 — which, Trump incorrectly asserted, is “in most populations far less lethal!!!” Facebook confirmed to CNN that the post was removed for breaking its rules against COVID-19 misinformation.
Twitter did not remove a tweet with the same message, but it added a warning label and restricted interactions with the post.
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As CNN reporter Donie O’Sullivan tweeted, Facebook has pledged to remove COVID-19 misinformation that can “contribute to imminent physical harm.” That includes false claims about “the location and severity” of COVID-19 outbreaks. We don’t know the exact mortality rate of the novel coronavirus, but there’s substantial evidence that it’s more deadly than the flu, and it’s almost certainly not “far less lethal” even for lower-risk populations. Trump also claimed that “sometimes over 100,000” people die from the flu each year, while the real number is between 24,000 and 62,000 American deaths in recent years. COVID-19 has killed over 210,000 Americans since March.
Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 last week and spent the weekend at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center before being discharged yesterday. He announced his departure by downplaying the severity of the virus. More generally, a recent study suggests that Trump has been a major driver of what misinformation experts have called the COVID-19 “infodemic” — a collection of false claims about the effects of the virus and the effectiveness of vaccines, mask-wearing, social distancing, and other measures.