D.C. Attorney General Subpoenas Facebook for Records in COVID-Misinformation Investigation

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Washington, D.C., attorney general Karl Racine has subpoenaed Facebook for information dealing with the company’s coronavirus misinformation policies and how it mitigates violations among users.

Racine has demanded that Facebook disclose the findings of research it conducted into vaccine skepticism among its account holders. The study aims to trace the transmission of ideas questioning inoculation on the platform, whether in grouped communities, comments, or other avenues. Since December, Facebook has prohibited users from posting what it considers misleading or false content about the COVID vaccine, censoring or removing statements that challenge the official scientific consensus that it is effective and safe.

The subpoena requests that Facebook provide records naming all groups, pages, and accounts that have violated its policies banning COVID misinformation. It also asked for data on all the content that has been removed or demoted by Facebook for failing to obey its misinformation rules.

“Facebook has said it’s taking action to address the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on its site,” a spokesperson for Racine told Politico. “But then when pressed to show its work, Facebook refused. AG Racine’s investigation aims to make sure Facebook is truly taking all steps possible to minimize vaccine misinformation on its site and support public health.”

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Facebook said in a statement that is has removed over 18 million pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram that violate its COVID and vaccine-misinformation stipulations and flagged more than 167 million pieces of COVID content that were determined false by its fact-checking team.

While Democrats have urged tech companies to eliminate dissent on the Internet regarding the vaccine, the nature of the disease, and COVID’s origins, Republicans have lobbied for intellectual freedom and information plurality. Many GOP lawmakers slammed Facebook for banning posts that referenced the  lab-leak hypothesis that COVID escaped via a laboratory accident in Wuhan, China, which is now considered mainstream and plausible.

In May, Facebook lifted the ban on lab-leak theory content as the explanation gained renewed traction and legitimacy with the public and government officials. While Facebook will no longer de-platform users for claiming that COVID was man-made, it is presumed that it will still combat alleged misinformation about the COVID vaccine in an effort to help encourage the hesitant to receive the shots.

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