Following increased scrutiny and a renewed investigation into the exact origins of Covid-19, Facebook said on Wednesday that it would no longer remove posts that claim that the virus is man-made or manufactured.
The policy shift comes on the same day that President Joe Biden called upon U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, specifically including whether or not the virus was the result of a lab accident in Wuhan, China rather than the result of an encounter with an infected animal. Although U.S. officials are exploring the possibility that the pandemic resulted from a lab accident, it’s worth noting that it’s not currently thought to be a possibility that the virus was man-made — adding a confusing, if not downright irresponsible layer to Facebook’s abrupt policy shift.
In a statement on Wednesday, Biden said that he had asked officials investigating the virus’s origins to deliver their findings within 90 days, and said that while the intelligence community is split in their thinking about the how the virus was first exposed to the general public, all agencies are in agreement that they “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one [cause] to be more likely than the other.”
China has been notoriously coy when it comes to the pandemic’s origins, refusing to cooperate with international efforts to trace the viral outbreak and deliberately obscuring key information about the rate of infection early on, during the time period when it would have been critical to act quickly to mitigate the virus’s spread.
Up until recently, the idea that Covid-19 had originated in Wuhan’s Institute of Virology had been regarded as a fringe conspiracy with no factual merit. Beijing, for its part, has sought to minimize the bad PR associated with claims that the viral outbreak was mishandled early on: On Tuesday, officials told an annual gathering of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body that China considered the investigation to be complete, and said that attention should now turn to other countries still struggling with the virus’s fallout. But on Wednesday evening, Facebook said that — at least temporarily — the platform would stop treating posts that questions the origins of Covid-19 as tantamount to fake news.
“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge.”