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Facebook, Twitter Punish Trump over Video Claiming Children are ‘Almost Immune’ from COVID

President Donald Trump meets with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, August 5, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

Facebook and Twitter took action against President Trump’s official and campaign accounts respectively on Wednesday, saying the accounts broke misinformation rules in posting a video clip in which the president says children are “almost immune” from COVID-19. 

Facebook removed the post of the video clip from a Fox News interview in which the president argues that schools should open, saying, “If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease.”

Twitter told the Washington Post it blocked the Team Trump campaign account from tweeting until it deleted a tweet with the video. The account was active again late Wednesday night.

This is not the first time Twitter has taken action against Trump for spreading what it deems false information. The site has flagged several of Trump’s tweets about coronavirus and mail-in voter fraud as misinformation and even blocked his son Donald Trump Jr. from tweeting for 12 hours after he shared a video featuring coronavirus misinformation.

Twitter spokeswoman Liz Kelley told the Post the tweet “is in violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation. The account owner will be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again.”

Facebook has been slower to take action and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has long defended the site as a place for free speech. Bowing to pressure, Zuckerberg said in June that the company will take down posts that incite violence or attempt to suppress voting, even from political leaders. Facebook will also add labels to posts that violate its policies, including against hate speech, he said. 

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said, “This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation.”

Trump campaign spokesperson Courtney Parella told Fox News that President Trump was “stating a fact that children are less susceptible to the coronavirus.”

“Another day, another display of Silicon Valley’s flagrant bias against this President, where the rules are only enforced in one direction,” she added. “Social media companies are not the arbiters of truth.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 240,000 children in the U.S. have had COVID-19 and around 300 children have contracted multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare inflammatory disease caused by the virus. Six children have died.

Researchers have found that though many children have had milder symptoms from the virus, they can catch and spread coronavirus to others who may be in high-risk categories. 

“They get it and can transmit it, but they get it less and transmit it less than adults,” Theodore Ruel, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Global Health at the University of California at San Francisco told the Post. He said the word “immunity” is incorrect in this context but that children, especially younger ones, are less of a risk than adults.

The tweets come as schools nationwide struggle to decide whether to re-open schools for in-person learning as the coronavirus continues to spread. President Trump has repeatedly said he is in favor of returning students to in-person instruction, while teachers unions have threatened strikes if schools re-open under what they deem to be unsafe conditions.

Ruel said that reopening schools for younger children could be safe, as long as the right precautions are taken, including masking, social distancing and creating a working testing and contact-tracing program.

“A well-run school is going to be just as safe if not safer than a grocery store,” he said. “But we have to make it safe for both [teachers and kids], and we have to recognize it is a risk for both if we want to reopen schools.”

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