Social media giants are removing millions of posts and accounts promoting coronavirus conspiracy theories and anti-lockdown protests.
And Australian groups are in the firing line.
On Monday, Facebook deleted a prominent anti-lockdown conspiracy group, Millions Rise for Australia.
The group, which had 120,000 followers, had been sharing COVID conspiracy theories and encouraging its followers to attend upcoming Freedom Day protests on September 5, taking place across major cities.
In a statement to The New Daily, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We removed this group and others for repeated violations of our Community Standards”.
“We remove misinformation that could lead to imminent physical harm, and restrict access to any content that violates local government guidance about social distancing.’’
The group’s members were left angry at its deletion and quickly tried starting up new “backup” groups under similar names.
Thousands of people quickly joined those on Monday night, after word of the original group’s deletion spread across other associated Facebook pages – but those new pages were also quickly removed off the social media platform.
And it’s not only conspiracy groups pushing to end lockdown.
A number of Liberal politicians, including Tim Wilson, have publicly slammed the Victorian government’s lockdown restrictions.
We need to have the courage to tell the truth – There is a huge cost to unsustainable lockdowns and it disproportionately hits the physical, mental and economic well being of young Australians for a false sense of security: https://t.co/yrXqE6Ry9d
— Tim Wilson MP (@TimWilsonMP) August 31, 2020
Meanwhile, Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly has come under fire for defending his constant social media promotion of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug touted by some – including US President Donald Trump – as a possible coronavirus treatment in the early stages of the pandemic.
Australian officials do not support the drug’s use for COVID-19, with acting chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly saying “it doesn’t work”, and multiple large studies questioning its effectiveness.
A global problem
Around the world, crowds of people have been gathering to protest against coronavirus lockdowns.
It’s happening in the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and now Australia.
Many protesters are ordinary citizens angry they can’t return to work or see their families.
A growing number, however, believe COVID-19 is nothing but a hoax designed to control the population.
Although it’s tempting to dismiss these conspiracy theorists as bizarre fringe dwellers, the reality is their influence is rapidly growing on social media.
And it’s resulting in mass protests that could spread the virus further and ultimately hinder our fight against the pandemic.
This is my husband. He’s a paramedic. I just wanted to say I’m proud of him. And that it is bloody hard to watch these conspiracy theories run wild when someone you love is working on the frontline of this awful virus. pic.twitter.com/06mz6v6g7E
— Georgie Purcell (@georgievpurcell) August 31, 2020
Action speaks louder than words
In July, Twitter became the first social media outlet to announce a crackdown on the QAnon conspiracy group, a pro-Trump movement that believes the coronavirus is a hoax and claims to have inside knowledge of celebrity pedophile rings.
Over the past several weeks, more than 7000 accounts related to QAnon have been removed from Twitter for violating its rules against spam, platform manipulation or ban evasion.
The removal of these accounts is expected to reduce the visibility of about 150,000 accounts around the world, according to the company.
Between March 17 and July 14, Twitter also removed 14,900 tweets and challenged 4.5 million accounts as part of a global crackdown on coronavirus misinformation.
The social networking site also recently expanded its use of tweet labels and warnings to address misleading information.
“For content related to COVID-19, we have broadened our definition of harm to address content that goes directly against guidance from authoritative sources of global and local public health information,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to The New Daily.
“We’re prioritising the removal of COVID-19 content when it has a call to action that could potentially cause harm.”
From April to June, Facebook – which also owns popular photo-blogging site Instagram, removed more than seven million pieces of content from both sites worldwide for containing misinformation, such as unproven “cures” for the coronavirus.
Facebook has also taken action on QAnon groups, but several large pages on that topic still exist in Australia.
The company also displayed warnings on about 98 million pieces of content on Facebook globally, using coronavirus-related debunking articles written by fact-checkers.