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Trump’s hype for state lockdown protests puts Twitter and Facebook’s new COVID-19 policies to the test

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A new flurry of tweets from President Trump is pushing the limits of social platform policies designed explicitly to keep users safe from the spread of the novel coronavirus, both online and off.

In a series of rapid-fire messages on Friday morning, Trump issued a call to “LIBERATE” Virginia, Minnesota and Michigan, all states led by Democratic governors. Trump’s tweets promoted protests in those states against ongoing public safety measures, many designed by his own administration, meant to keep residents safe from the virus. Trump also shared the messages on his Facebook page.

In the case of Minnesota, the tweet was not a generic message to his supporters in the state — it referenced a Friday protest event by its name, “Liberate Minnesota.”

In Minnesota, the in-person protest event gathered a group of Trump supporters outside the St. Paul home of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz to protest the state’s ongoing lockdown. According to a reporter on the scene Friday, the protest had attracted attendees in the “low hundreds” so far and few were practicing social distancing or wearing masks. The event was organized on Facebook.

“President Trump has been very clear that we must get America back to work very quickly or the ‘cure’ to this terrible disease may be the worse option!,” the event’s Facebook description states. In a later disclaimer, event organizers encourage attendees to exercise “personal responsibility” at the protest, stating that they “are not responsible for your current health situation or future health.”

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The president’s tweets contradict his administration’s own guidance, detailed yesterday in coordination with health experts, on reopening state economies. Earlier this week, Trump claimed that a president has “total authority” to reopen the national economy, a sentiment that his tweets Friday appeared to undermine.

Trump’s calls to action in support of state-based protests would also appear to potentially contradict both Twitter and Facebook’s new rules specific to the pandemic, which in both cases explicitly forbid any COVID-19 content that could result in the real-world spread of the virus.

Over the last month, Facebook and Twitter both rolled out relatively aggressive new policies designed to protect users from content contradicting the guidance of health experts, particularly anything that could result in real-world harm.

Update: According to a Twitter spokesperson, the president’s tweets do not currently violate Twitter’s rules. Twitter does not consider the tweets as worded a “clear call to action” that could pose a health risk. Twitter also did not determine that the tweets were shared with harmful intentions.

Facebook did not provide answers to questions about the protests organized on its platform by the time of publication.

In late March, Twitter updated its safety policy to prohibit any tweets that “could place people at a higher risk of transmitting COVID-19.” The stance banned tweets claiming social distancing doesn’t work as well as anything with a “call to action” that could promote risky behaviors, like encouraging people to go out to a local bar.

On April 1, Twitter again broadened its definition for the kind of harmful COVID-19 content it forbids, stating that it would “continue to prioritize removing content when it has a clear call to action that could directly pose a risk to people’s health or well-being.”

Facebook similarly expanded its platform rules to match the existential health threat posed by the coronavirus. In guidance on its policies for the pandemic, Facebook says that it “remove[s] COVID-19 related misinformation that could contribute to imminent physical harm.” As an example, the company noted that in March it began removing “claims that physical distancing doesn’t help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

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Social media companies signaled early in the U.S. spread of the coronavirus that they would take health misinformation — and the safety of their users — more seriously than ever. In some instances, this tough talk appears to have manifested in improvements: Facebook, which has generally been more proactive about health misinformation compared to other topics, moved to promote health expertise and limit the spread of misleading coronavirus content on the platform, even announcing that it would notify anyone who had interacted with COVID-19 misinformation with a special message in their news feed.

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Facebook fighting against disinformation: Launch new options

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Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has dismantled new malicious networks that used vaccine debates to harass professionals or sow division in some countries, a sign that disinformation about the pandemic, spread for political ends, is on the wane not.

“They insulted doctors, journalists and elected officials, calling them supporters of the Nazis because they were promoting vaccines against the Covid, ensuring that compulsory vaccination would lead to a dictatorship of health,” explained Mike Dvilyanski, director investigations into emerging threats, at a press conference on Wednesday.

He was referring to a network linked to an anti-vaccination movement called “V_V”, which the Californian group accuses of having carried out a campaign of intimidation and mass harassment in Italy and France, against health figures, media and politics.

The authors of this operation coordinated in particular via the Telegram messaging system, where the volunteers had access to lists of people to target and to “training” to avoid automatic detection by Facebook.

Their tactics included leaving comments under victims’ messages rather than posting content, and using slightly changed spellings like “vaxcinati” instead of “vaccinati”, meaning “people vaccinated” in Italian.

The social media giant said it was difficult to assess the reach and impact of the campaign, which took place across different platforms.

This is a “psychological war” against people in favor of vaccines, according to Graphika, a company specializing in the analysis of social networks, which published Wednesday a report on the movement “V_V”, whose name comes from the Italian verb “vivere” (“to live”).

“We have observed what appears to be a sprawling populist movement that combines existing conspiratorial theories with anti-authoritarian narratives, and a torrent of health disinformation,” experts detail.

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They estimate that “V_V” brings together some 20,000 supporters, some of whom have taken part in acts of vandalism against hospitals and operations to interfere with vaccinations, by making medical appointments without honoring them, for example.

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Change on Facebook

Facebook announces news that will facilitate your sales and purchases on the social network.

Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebook, announced that the parent company would now be called Meta, to better represent all of its activities, from social networks to virtual reality, but the names of the different services will remain unchanged. A month later, Meta is already announcing news for the social network.

The first is the launch of online stores in Facebook groups. A “Shop” tab will appear and will allow members to buy products directly through the group in question.

Other features have been communicated with the aim of facilitating e-commerce within the social network, such as the display of recommendations and a better mention of products or even Live Shopping. At this time, no date has been announced regarding the launch of these new options.

In the light of recent features, the company wants to know the feedback from its users through the survey same like what Tesco doing to get its customers feedback via Tesco Views Survey. However, the company is still about this feedback will announce sooner than later in this regard.

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