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Facebook will no longer remove posts claiming COVID-19 was man-made

This March 29, 2018 file photo, shows logo for social media giant Facebook at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Richard Drew. Richard Drew/AP/The Canadian Press

Facebook will no longer remove posts from its apps claiming that COVID-19 was man-made.

In an email to Global News Wednesday evening, a Facebook company spokesperson said the decision was made “in light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts.”

“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,” the email read. 

Social media companies have faced scrutiny for their role in spreading misinformation online amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Read more: Influencers say they got offered thousands to spread fake news on Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

In order to combat this, Facebook implemented a number of measures early in the pandemic which the company says will, “keep people informed and limit misinformation about COVID-19.”

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However, Wednesday’s move marks a swift reversal from the company’s stance just months ago.

In February, Facebook announced it would be adding posts that COVID-19 is a man-made or manufactured virus to a list of other debunked claims it would remove from its platforms.

Twitter, on the other hand, has not made any changes to its current COVID-19 misleading information policy.

In an email to Global News Thursday, a spokesperson for the micro-blogging platform shared that they continue “to take enforcement action” on content and accounts that propagate “demonstrably false or misleading claims about COVID-19.”

“We do this work in close consultation with global public health authorities, and we’ll continue to collaborate with public health experts to help people find authoritative, reliable information about COVID-19, particularly as the pandemic evolves around the world,” the spokesperson said.

Global News has reached out to YouTube to determine their policies regarding posts claiming COVID-19 was man-made, but did not immediately hear back.

Calls for further investigation

Facebook’s move comes the same day U.S. President Joe Biden called for further investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus.

Click to play video: 'U.S. congressman challenges Zuckerberg over response to Facebook’s handling of misinformation' U.S. congressman challenges Zuckerberg over response to Facebook’s handling of misinformation
U.S. congressman challenges Zuckerberg over response to Facebook’s handling of misinformation – Jul 29, 2020

In a statement Wednesday, the president said he has asked the Intelligence Community to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion,” and to report back to him in 90 days.

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Biden said as part of the report, he has asked for areas of “further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have been examining reports that researchers at a virology laboratory in China fell seriously ill in 2019 a month before the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, according to U.S. government sources who cautioned on Monday that there is still no proof the disease originated at the lab.

Read more: Wuhan virus lab staff sought hospital care before China disclosed COVID-19 outbreak: reports

How the virus originated is a topic that has been hotly contested for months.

In January and February of this year, a team of scientists and researchers led by the World Health Organization travelled to Wuhan, China, where the virus was first detected in late 2019.

Click to play video: 'U.S. digs into COVID-19’s origin as conspiracy theories gain traction' U.S. digs into COVID-19’s origin as conspiracy theories gain traction
U.S. digs into COVID-19’s origin as conspiracy theories gain traction – May 26, 2021

In March, the WHO-led team published a report along with Chinese scientists which said the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal.

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The report said the idea that the virus had leaked from a laboratory was an “extremely unlikely pathway.”

Read more: Biden calls for further investigation into origins of COVID-19

However, not everyone agrees.

In a letter published in the journal Science earlier this month, 18 scientists said “theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable.”

“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” the letter reads.

“A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest.”

Further, in March, Canada and 12 other nations issued a joint statement expressing their concerns over the WHO report, saying it was “significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.”

“Together, we support a transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence, of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement read.

“In this regard, we join in expressing shared concerns regarding the recent WHO-convened study in China, while at the same time reinforcing the importance of working together toward the development and use of a swift, effective, transparent, science-based, and independent process for international evaluations of such outbreaks of unknown origin in the future.”

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— With a file from The Associated Press

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