D.C. AG subpoenas Facebook in escalating probe of Covid-19 misinformation

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D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has subpoenaed Facebook for records related to the platform’s handling of coronavirus misinformation as part of a previously undisclosed investigation into whether the tech giant is violating consumer protection laws.

What he is demanding: Racine, a Democrat, is calling on Facebook to release by the end of next week an internal study it conducted looking into vaccine hesitancy among its users, as first revealed by news reports in March.

The subpoena, filed June 21, also calls on Facebook to provide records identifying all groups, pages and accounts that have violated its policies against Covid-19 misinformation and documents detailing how many resources the tech giant has devoted to the cause.

“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 Racine, told POLITICO. “But then when pressed to show its work, Facebook refused. 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.”

In response to the subpoena, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said in a statement that the company has "removed more than 18 million pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram that violate 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."

Misinformation efforts under the microscope: Facebook and other tech companies have faced immense pressure from Democratic leaders in Washington to crack down more forcefully against misleading news about the pandemic, which they fear have contributed to widespread vaccine hesitancy and anti-masking sentiment.

Republicans, meanwhile, have skewered Facebook for over-policing claims about the origin of the virus. The company recently announced it would no longer take down posts claiming Covid-19 was man-made, as first reported by POLITICO, a move that came amid surging speculation that the virus may have accidentally leaked from a lab in China.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the tech giant has taken steps to combat coronavirus misinformation, including expanding the pool of health posts the platform will label as misleading and surfacing reliable information about the virus from global health authorities to users.

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