After President Biden ordered a US intelligence inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, amidst the renewed scrutiny of the likelihood of the virus emerging from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, popular social media giant Facebook reversed its policy, allowing posts that linked the virus’ origins to a possible lab-leak.
Facebook had earlier banned posts that suggested COVID-19 to be man-made, arguing that it took the decision to ban posts attributing the coronavirus outbreak to a deliberate lab leak, in an attempt to root out false and potentially harmful content while remaining open for discourse.
Pivoting from its stance, Facebook on Wednesday released a statement that said: “In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of Covid-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that Covid-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps.”
“We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge,” it further added.
The new statement is in opposition to the previous guidance issued by Facebook in February when it said it would ban false and debunked claims about the novel coronavirus which spawned a global pandemic that killed over three million people. The move was then seen as a charm offensive from Facebook to extract concessions from Beijing over the social media company’s entry into the nation’s digital space.
Earlier last year, former President Trump had routinely blamed China for bequeathing the world with an intractable contagion. Trump had been one of the fiercest proponents of the Wuhan Lab Leak theory, alleging that the virus was accidentally leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. However, his claims were not taken seriously—both by the opposition as well as the social media tech giants, who alleged that the former president was deflecting his poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak by dissing China and concocting conspiracy theories.
However, months later, as Biden Administration issued a directive to the US intelligence agencies to investigate the competing theories on how the virus first emerged—a zoonotic spillover at a wet market in Wuhan, China, or through accidental release from a research laboratory in the same city, the social media behemoth has overturned its policy of blocking posts ascribing the genesis of the coronavirus to the Wuhan Lab.
The order indicates a significant escalation in the raging controversy surrounding the origins of the virus.
At the start of the pandemic, it was alleged that the virus first emerged in bats and then passed to humans, likely via an intermediary species. The theory was widely accepted across the world, but as the time has gone past, scientists have failed in detecting the virus either in bats or other animals that matches the genetic signature of SARS-CoV-2.
In the light of the latest developments, the lab-leak theory is gaining increasing traction in the United States and other western countries, even as China is vehemently denying the hypothesis and denouncing it as a “conspiracy created by the US Intelligence Agencies”.