Facebook said Wednesday it would no longer ban posts suggesting COVID-19 is man-made.
The decision came amid mounting calls from US President Joe Biden and other officials for further investigation into the pandemic’s origins.
The announcement marked a reversal for the social media giant. In February, Facebook said it would remove posts claiming the virus was man-made or manufactured “following consultations with leading health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO)” who had “debunked” the claim.
“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.
“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.”
Politico was first to report on the policy change.
Public calls for further investigation into the pandemic’s origins intensified in recent days after the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that three researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology displayed symptoms severe enough to seek hospital treatment. A previous State Department fact sheet noted the researchers had “symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”
Their reported illness happened in November 2019, one month before China admitted it was battling an outbreak.
In a statement earlier Monday, Biden said he had directed his national security adviser to develop a report on the virus’ origins, including the possibility that it emerged after a laboratory accident, shortly after he became president. Biden said he has called on intelligence officials to present a report on their findings within 90 days.
“The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence,” Biden said.
Facebook and other social media platforms have faced pressure from both sides of the aisle regarding their COVID-19 content policies. Democratic lawmakers have pressed platforms to crack down on the spread of misinformation, while Republicans have accused the companies of stifling open debate, including discussions on the lab leak theory.