Facebook Oversight Board admits Facebook was wrong to censor information about Hydroxychloroquine

Should Facebook be charged with criminal neglect?

French Cartoon from 1899 showing Quinine and Antipyrine as the two main treatments for the Asiatic Flu.

During the 1899-1890 “Asiatic Flu” global pandemic, quinine was one of the top two most written about remedies in the Western World*. It is now believed by many researchers that the Asiatic Flu was caused by the emergence of Human Coronavirus OC43 (Though others think it was an influenza strain).

Quinine comes from the bark of the South American Cinchona plant. It was first called Jesuit’s bark or Jesuit’s powder in the 1700s. Quinine is the active ingredient in “Tonic Water,” which is sold in every American grocery store.

Hydroxychloroquine [HCQ] is a large dose of synthetic Quinine. It is sold over the counter in much of the world, but requires a prescription in the USA and most European nations. It is used as a both an anti-inflammatory and an anti-malaria drug.

In China, HCQ was used to treat victims of SARS. Last March, US President Donald Trump publicly recommended the drug. At that time, HCQ was already being widely used to treat SARS2/Covid-19 patients in China, South Korea, Japan, and France.

Even though HCQ was already a very widely prescribed drug in the USA and regular natural quinine was sold over the counter, many media outlets and politicians attacked HCQ. The attacks appear to have been motivated by political animosity against the US president.

In one instance, the Facebook censors removed a viral video last October about HCQ. Facebook claimed it “contributed to the risk of imminent physical harm during a global pandemic.” Keep in mind that by October, HCQ was being used worldwide to treat SARS2/Covid-19.

The Facebook Oversight Board has now concluded, three months later, that Facebook’s “Violence and Incitement” team were wrong to censor the viral video. Facebook censors argued that the video would encourage people to self-medicate and ignore their doctor’s advice. The oversight board found this to be untrue.

The Board observed that, in this post, the user was opposing a governmental policy and aimed to change that policy. The combination of medicines that the post claims constitute a cure are not available without a prescription in France and the content does not encourage people to buy or take drugs without a prescription. Considering these and other contextual factors, the Board noted that Facebook had not demonstrated the post would rise to the level of imminent harm, as required by its own rule in the Community Standards.

The Board also found that Facebook’s decision did not comply with international human rights standards on limiting freedom of expression. Given that Facebook has a range of tools to deal with misinformation, such as providing users with additional context, the company failed to demonstrate why it did not choose a less intrusive option than removing the content.

The Board also found Facebook’s misinformation and imminent harm rule, which this post is said to have violated, to be inappropriately vague and inconsistent with international human rights standards. A patchwork of policies found on different parts of Facebook’s website make it difficult for users to understand what content is prohibited. Changes to Facebook’s COVID-19 policies announced in the company’s Newsroom have not always been reflected in its Community Standards, while some of these changes even appear to contradict them.

Critics accuse Facebook and others of criminal negligence for what they call the politically motivated suppression of a potentially life-saving drug.

* – According to the book 1889-1890 Flu Pandemic: The History of the 19th Century’s Last Major Global Outbreak. Along with Quinine, Phenazone (antipyrine) are the two most written about remedies. Other remedies that people wrote about primarily involve liquor.

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