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Facebook lifts ban on posts claiming COVID-19 was man-made

Coronavirus

FILE – This March 29, 2018 file photo shows the Facebook logo on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York’s Times Square. With vaccination against COVID-19 in full swing, social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter say they’ve stepped up their fight against misinformation that aims to undermine trust in the vaccines. But problems abound. For years, the same platforms have allowed anti-vaccination propaganda to flourish, making it difficult to stamp out such sentiments now. And their efforts to weed out other types of COVID-19 misinformation – often with fact-checks, informational labels and other restrained measures, has been woefully slow. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

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Facebook’s shift in policy Wednesday marks a notable reversal of what was a recent add to their list of misleading health claims.

In February, Facebook announced that it had expanded the list of “false claims” it would remove from its platforms to include “additional debunked” statements about COVID-19 — including that COVID is “man-made or manufactured.”

Facebook has made changes to its policies around misleading COVID-19 information throughout the course of the pandemic, in consultation with “leading health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO),” the company said.

The claim that COVID-19 was man-made has circled almost since the beginning of the pandemic, focusing on China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, in the city where the outbreak was first detected. The claims that the virus came from the lab was one often pushed by former President Donald Trump, though he never provided evidence.

While claims that the virus was man-made are not necessarily the same as it coming from the lab, officials appear to be leaning toward investigating the origins further and are open to more scrutiny on the lab theory. That theory garnered more attention this week when The Wall Street Journal reported on a U.S. intelligence report citing researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized with an unspecified illness in November 2019. ABC News has not independently confirmed that intelligence report.

President Joe Biden said Wednesday he was ordering U.S. intelligence agencies to “redouble their efforts” to investigate the origins of COVID-19, including “specific questions for China.” He has asked for a new report to be filed in 90 days looking further into the origins of the virus that has killed at least 590,000 Americans and nearly 3.5 million people worldwide.

“As of today, the U.S. Intelligence Community has ‘coalesced around two likely scenarios’ but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question,” Biden said in a statement. “Here is their current position: ‘while two elements in the IC leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter — each with low or moderate confidence — the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.'”

The World Health Organization issued a report on the origins of COVID-19 in late March that said the pandemic was likely started through animal to human transmission. The investigators, who spent nearly a month in China, ruled that a lab accident was “extremely unlikely.”

It was the only one of the four scenarios that the team did not recommend scientists investigate further.

However, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said at the time that further investigation was needed in general as to the virus’s origin and further data would be needed. There has been international criticism about the lack of access provided by China to WHO in its investigation.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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