A right-wing magazine’s Facebook post suggesting people infect themselves with coronavirus en masse does not violate the platform’s rules, a spokesperson told HuffPost.
The Federalist, a fervently pro-Trump outlet, shared the still-active post to its 100,000-follower Facebook page on Wednesday morning. It links to a Federalist article written by an unlicensed dermatologist, who argues that Americans should throw coronavirus infection “parties” as a way to establish “herd immunity” and save the economy.
Facebook explicitly prohibits coronavirus-related misinformation “that could contribute to imminent physical harm.” The company declined to explain how a post proposing readers deliberately contract a virus that has rapidly killed tens of thousands of people does not meet that standard.
Like other social media giants, Facebook introduced new policies under guidance from the World Health Organization to minimize the reach of “misinformation and harmful content” about the pandemic. But its decision to keep the Federalist post online raises questions about its enforcement of those policies.
Platforms including Twitter and Reddit have removed links to the article. Twitter even temporarily restricted The Federalist’s account for tweeting it out.
On Facebook, however, the article is freely making its way through a variety of popular pages, where people are spreading it with praise: “THIS is what we need to do!” wrote one woman who shared the Federalist’s post. In a major anti-vaccine group, where the article was shared on Wednesday afternoon, commenters are hailing the author’s suggestion as “our BEST option.”
While world leaders enact nationwide lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus and leading epidemiologists implore people to isolate themselves as death tolls rise, Douglas Perednia, the Portland, Oregon, dermatologist behind the Federalist article, is calling for the opposite.
“CVI [Controlled Voluntary Infection] involves allowing people at low risk for severe complications to deliberately contract COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus] in a socially and medically responsible way so they become immune to the disease,” writes Perednia, who is not licensed to practice medicine, a fact first reported by Vice. “Given the recent example of spring break 2020 for college students in Florida, one could imagine CVI even becoming a social activity.”
His proposal is both dangerous and scientifically unsound. Beyond the fact that coronavirus can harm and kill people — no matter how young or healthy they may be — recovering from it does not guarantee long-term immunity. Residents in Wuhan, China, are already testing positive for the second time.
The Federalist also ran an article this week suggesting that gargling salt water could ward off COVID-19. The WHO has debunked this as false, yet the article is still making the rounds in conservative Facebook groups, with captions such as “will start this today!!!”
Given the urgency of the crisis, Facebook is working extra hard to remove misinformation and harmful content from its platform, CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed in a rare interview with The New York Times earlier this month.
“When you’re dealing with a pandemic, a lot of the stuff we’re seeing just crossed the threshold,” he said. “So it’s easier to set policies that are a little more black and white and take a much harder line.”