(Reuters) – Twitter Inc said on Friday that video clips of U.S. President Donald Trump suggesting that scientists investigate inserting light or disinfectant into coronavirus patients did not violate its COVID-19 misinformation policy.
U.S. President Donald Trump rubs his hands between U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Jovita Carranza while defending his comments on using household disinfectants as a measure against the coronavirus prior to signing the “Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act,” approving additional coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief for the U.S. economy and hospitals treating people sickened by the pandemic, during a signing ceremony in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A Twitter spokeswoman told Reuters in an email that the company considered Trump’s remarks a wish for a treatment for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, rather than a literal call for people to inject disinfectant.
The social media site exploded with discussion of the president’s comments, made at his daily media briefing on Thursday, with such trending terms as “Lysol”, “#disinfectant” and “DontDrinkBleach” and “#InjectDisinfectant.”
Twitter previously said it was prioritizing the removal of COVID-19 misinformation that might cause harm but would not act on every tweet containing incomplete or disputed information about the disease.
The site’s COVID-19 misinformation policy states that it has broadened its definition of harm to address content that goes against guidance from authoritative sources of public health information.
After Trump spoke, doctors and health experts urged people not to drink or inject cleaning agents. Lysol and Dettol maker Reckitt Benckiser warned against internal usage of disinfectants, saying it had been asked about it due to recent speculation and social media activity.
Trump on Friday sought to portray his comments as sarcasm. The White House earlier in the day said Trump’s remarks had been taken out of context and urged people to seek coronavirus treatment only after conferring with their doctors.
Twitter’s policy also says it bans descriptions of purported cures for COVID-19 that are ineffective or being shared with the intent to mislead others, even if made in jest.
A Reuters Twitter search turned up several tweets mocking Trump’s suggestions by repeating exaggerated versions of them, including a joke meme saying, “Don’t forget to drink your daily dose of bleach as advised by President Trump.”
Trump, who has more than 73 million followers on Twitter, has long complained without offering evidence that social media companies including Twitter employ tactics to silence conservative voices – accusations the companies deny.
In March, Twitter used its “manipulated media” label for the first time on a video clip of Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee to face the Republican president in the Nov. 3 U.S. election, that was posted by White House social media director Dan Scavino and retweeted by Trump.
Facebook Inc and YouTube, the video service of Google parent company Alphabet Inc, did not immediately respond to questions about their handling of clips of Trump’s remarks or the discussions on their sites.
Social media sites have been under pressure to police health misinformation promoting the use of disinfectants like bleach to cure various issues, spread online by conspiracy theorists or in anti-vaccine and fringe alternative-medicine communities.
In a livestream on Friday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg cited the false idea that drinking bleach could help cure coronavirus infection as an example of the type of misinformation that the site would remove because it could lead to physical harm.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday said it had warned Facebook and seven other San Francisco-area tech companies that their platforms were being used to market disinfectants that falsely claimed to protect against the coronavirus.
Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; Editing by Howard Goller and Will Dunham