July 6, 2021 -- District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine has subpoenaed Facebook for documents and data related to the tech platform’s handling of coronavirus misinformation.

Racine is asking Facebook to release certain records by the end of next week, including an internal study that the platform conducted on vaccine hesitancy among users. The study found that a small group of users played a big role in pushing vaccine skepticism, The Washington Postreported in March.

The subpoena, which was filed on June 21, requests that Facebook provide records on groups, pages, and accounts that have violated the platform’s COVID-19 misinformation policies, as well as details on how the platform has addressed those violations.

Racine is also asking for details about the resources that Facebook is devoting to combatting vaccine misinformation, including the volume of content awaiting review, according to Axios.

“Facebook has said it’s taking action to address the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on its site,” Abbie McDonough, director of communications for the attorney general’s office, told POLITICO.

“But then when pressed to show its work, Facebook refused,” she said. “AG Racine’s investigation aims to make sure Facebook is truly taking all steps possible to minimize vaccine misinformation on its site and support public health.”

Throughout the pandemic, Facebook has expanded the types of health posts that the platform labels as misleading and has highlighted reliable information from global health authorities. In February, Facebook said it would take tougher action against misinformation, particularly claims about COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy, Axios reported.

At the same time, the company announced at the end of May that it would no longer remove posts that claim COVID-19 was man-made, which occurred as more scientists questioned the origins of the virus, according to Reuters.

“We’ve connected over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities, including through our COVID-19 information Center,” Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Facebook, told Axios in a statement.

“We’ve removed more than 18 million pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram that violated our COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation policies, and labeled more than 167 million pieces of COVID-19 content rated false by our network of fact checking partners,” he said.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

POLITICO: “D.C. AG subpoenas Facebook in escalating probe of Covid-19 misinformation.”

The Washington Post: “Massive Facebook study on users’ doubt in vaccines finds a small group appears to play a big role in pushing the skepticism.”

Axios: “DC subpoenas Facebook over COVID-19 misinformation.”

Reuters: “Facebook no longer banning posts calling the coronavirus ‘man-made.’”

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