But the focus of late has been on the notion that the virus may have accidentally escaped from the lab, not that it was man-made or purposely released — theories that could now propagate on Facebook. Genetic studies of the virus have found flaws in the protein it uses to bind to human cells. Those are features that someone trying to engineer a bioweapon likely would have avoided.
Shifting definitions on social media: Facebook announced in February it had expanded the list of misleading health claims that it would remove from its platforms to include those asserting that "COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured." The tech giant has updated its policies against false and misleading coronavirus information, including its running list of debunked claims, over the course of the pandemic in consultation with global health officials.
But a Facebook spokesperson said Wednesday that the origin language had been stricken from that list due to the renewed debate about the virus’ roots.
“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,” the spokesperson said in an emailed 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.”
Policies under the microscope: Social media companies have faced intense pressure from congressional Democrats to crack down more forcefully on misinformation about the virus throughout the pandemic, with House lawmakers hauling in the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google for a hearing on the matter in March.
Other platforms including Twitter have said that misleading claims about the virus’ roots may also violate its policies. But Facebook’s move marks the first major sign prominent social media companies are revisiting those rules as the Wuhan lab-leak theory gains attention.
Asked whether Twitter plans to revisit its own rules on Covid-19 origin claims, a company spokesperson said late Wednesday they had no updates to share at this time. Twitter continues to "work in close consultation with global public health authorities" on coronavirus misinformation issues, the spokesperson said in a statement.
Spokespeople for Google-owned YouTube did not return requests for comment on whether the company is revisiting its policies relating to claims about the virus' origins.
Lauren Morello contributed to this report.