Throughout the pandemic, Meta struggled to contain the absolute flood of disastrous information about fighting COVID-19 off its platform.
It appears that now, the owner of Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp, is fed up with even trying anymore. It is petitioning its Oversight Board, a group of experts Meta tasked with recommending non-binding solutions to problems Meta is unwilling to tackle without being given a cover of positive PR, as to whether it should soften its COVID-19 content restrictions.
From bleach cures to anti-mask movements, Meta never actually got the massive amounts of misinformation on its platforms under control. Part of that is a problem of scale, as policing a population of several billion people online is downright impossible. But part of that is also a lack of will, as Facebook and other tech platforms want to be considered bastions of free speech regardless of those potentially deadly consequences.
In its letter to the Oversight Board by Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, the company asked whether the COVID-19 policies it implemented at the beginning of the pandemic are still necessary.
In its letter, Meta said that it removed over 25 million pieces of content that misinformed the public about COVID.
Meta remains committed to combating COVID-19 misinformation and providing people with reliable information. As the pandemic has evolved, the time is right for us to seek input from the Oversight Board about our measures to address COVID-19 misinformation, including whether those introduced in the early days of an extraordinary global crisis remains the right approach for the months and years ahead.
Meta said it is asking the Oversight Board to advise it on whether removal of content is the correct step going forward. In its letter, it notes that while the Oversight Board is technically capable of issuing binding decisions (although it is truly unclear what enforcement mechanisms exist), here it is merely asking for an advisory opinion.
“We are requesting an advisory opinion from the Oversight Board on whether Meta’s current measures to address COVID-19 misinformation under our harmful health misinformation policy continue to be appropriate, or whether we should address this misinformation through other means, like labeling or demoting it either directly or through our third-party fact-checking program,” the letter said.
In its letter, Meta said that it wished to balance the need for safety restrictions on harmful misinformation and its belief that people need a right to express themselves freely.
But in reality, it means that Meta, which struggled throughout the pandemic and faced criticism from nearly everyone for its policies, is ready to be done with removing misinformation on its platform.