News World Facebook, Twitter take action against Donald Trump post likening coronavirus to the flu
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Facebook, Twitter take action against Donald Trump post likening coronavirus to the flu

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Facebook and Twitter have removed posts by Donald Trump in which he downplays the danger of the coronavirus by again comparing it to the seasonal flu.

In response, the US President has called for the repeal of Section 230, a part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which allows internet companies to delete content they judge to be harmful.

If Democrats, the American public – and even Trump campaign advisers – were hoping the President would learn from his own virus experience, it looks as if they will be sorely disappointed.

On Tuesday (local time), he told Americans not to be afraid of COVID-19. Then he took to social media to repeat false claims the coronavirus is less lethal for most people than seasonal influenza.

He wrote that COVID-19 is “far less lethal” than the flu. He said Americans “have learned to live with” the flu “just like we are learning to live with COVID”.

In April, the World Health Organisation estimated the coronavirus mortality rate at 10 times higher than influenza.

More than one million people have died of the coronavirus worldwide so far this year, including more than 210,000 Americans.

Bring on the debate?

On Wednesday morning (Australian time), Mr Trump also stirred more controversy by tweeting that he is looking forward to a scheduled debate with his rival Joe Biden next week.

The recovering COVID patient did not explain how he could travel with an entourage to Miami, and be close to rivals and supporters, without spreading the virus.

“I am looking forward to the debate on the evening of Thursday, October 15th in Miami. It will be great!” Mr Trump said on Twitter following his first night back in the White House after being in hospital for COVID-19.

Mr Biden expressed concern about how Mr Trump had acted since his release from hospital, including the President’s decision to remove his mask immediately after arriving at the White House. 

Speaking at an NBC News town hall event, Mr Biden said he was glad that the President “seems to be coming along pretty well” but hoped that now having contracted the coronavirus, Mr Trump “would communicate the right lesson to the American people”.

Meanwhile, in a new 24-minute video, former first lady Michelle Obama took aim at Mr Trump for continuing to “gaslight the American people by acting like this pandemic is not a real threat”.

She said Mr Trump could have “mitigated the damage” of “the greatest crisis of our lifetimes” but “he still doesn’t have a plan for this virus”.

“Seven months later, he still won’t wear a mask consistently and encourage others to do the same,” she said.

Coronavirus far more deadly than flu, but Trump’s enemy remains Section 230

Health authorities around the world have battled to combat misinformation about the coronavirus, including trying to get people to stop thinking it is similar to the flu.

Mr Trump might have undone some of that hard work.

Facebook deleted Mr Trump’s post for violating its policy against COVID-19 misinformation.

“We remove incorrect information about the severity of COVID-19, and have now removed this post,” said Andy Stone, policy communications manager at Facebook.

Twitter obscured the same message behind a warning.

In response, one Twitter user wrote: “Every time I see a tweet from [Donald Trump] CENSORED, I will make sure to share it more. Democrats don’t like too much truth getting out there.”

Although the post violated Twitter’s rules about “spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19”, the social network “determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible”.

Users can click ‘View’ to read Mr Trump’s original tweet, but the President reacted angrily to being censored.

“REPEAL SECTION 230!!!” he posted to Twitter, referring to a law that removes the onus on social media platforms to moderate content posted by their users as they are deemed not responsible for what’s said online.

It generally protects websites from lawsuits if a user posts something illegal, but also allows for social media companies to engage in “good-Samaritan blocking”.

This feature of the law allows them to remove objectionable content.

But if Mr Trump had his way and Section 230 was repealed, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter would face legal action if they were to edit or change a user’s content.

Mr Trump signed an executive order in May to repeal Section 230.

It was seen as retaliation against Twitter’s decision to slap fact-checking labels on his offending tweets by showing a message that read “get the facts on COVID-19”.

Last week a US Senate committee voted to authorise subpoenas to the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter to testify before the panel about concerns over Section 230.

Watch Michelle Obama’s video message: