After protests against stay-at-home orders and other social distancing measures broke out in Denver and other parts of the country Sunday, Facebook has started removing posts about such events from its platform.
Hundreds showed up to Colorado’s Capitol Sunday to protest the state’s response to COVID-19, which has claimed the lives of more than 500 Coloradans so far. Public health officials estimate between 65,000 and 75,000 have been infected.
Organized by conservative forces in the state, including Libertarian groups and ReOpen Colorado, the protest called for Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO) to end the stay-at-home order and reopen businesses. Many in attendance eschewed social distancing rules, photos show.
It was a similar story in cities across the nation over the weekend, causing some public health experts to warn that there might be a surge in new coronavirus cases as a result.
Now, Facebook is stepping in to remove events that may violate coronavirus restrictions from its platform.
Events promoting anti-quarantine protests have been removed in California, New Jersey, and Nebraska, CNN reports. But that doesn’t mean they’re removing all the protests — just ones that clearly violate state orders.
“Unless government prohibits the event during this time, we allow it to be organized on Facebook,” said a Facebook company spokesperson in an email to the Colorado Times Recorder. “For this same reason, events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on Facebook.”
“We reached out to state officials to understand the scope of their orders, not about removing specific protests on Facebook,” they added. “We remove the posts when gatherings do not follow the health parameters established by the government and are therefore unlawful.”
A spokesperson for the Colorado Emergency Operations Center told the Colorado Times Recorder they were unaware if representatives from Facebook had made contact with state officials regarding anti-quarantine protests. Gov. Polis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.
It does appear that Facebook at least temporarily removed one Colorado event. The “Operation Gridlock” event, which promoted Sunday’s protest at the capitol, was temporarily taken down, but is now back up on the platform with a message that reads, “It’s up to all of us to slow the spread of COVID-19. Everyone, including young and healthy people, should avoid large gatherings during this time. Stay up-to-date with public health guidelines from cdc.gov.”
Facebook didn’t comment on whether it removed the event or if it had been in contact with Colorado government officials over the issue.
Despite Facebook’s stance of simply removing events that don’t follow the law, conservatives are crying censorship.
“Are we okay with Facebook deciding which protests are okay?” asked Colorado conservative talk radio host Mandy Connel in a blog post yesterday. “Because the social media giant is now censoring posts about protests that don’t follow the government mandated rules of social distancing. To be clear, if you are trying to set up a protest, and Facebook decides it isn’t government-ruled enough, they just won’t show it to anyone. Is this okay? I feel like this is not okay.”
Facebook is generally timid when it comes to anything that can be classified as censorship, and has drawn criticism for the proliferation of fake news on its platform and its refusal to fact check political ads and statements made by politicians.
On matters of public health, however, Facebook seems to do more. For example, in order to combat misinformation about vaccines on its platform and provide sources of accurate information, Facebook partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) — a partnership that’s been put to use as Facebook confronts the current public health crisis.