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Trump post downplaying COVID-19 compared to flu is removed by Facebook and flagged by Twitter

A post from President Trump downplaying COVID-19 in comparison to the flu was removed by Facebook and flagged by Twitter soon after the president posted it Tuesday morning. It was a rare instance of both social media companies swiftly taking action against one of Mr. Trump's falsehoods on their platforms.

The president's post claimed that "sometimes over 100,000" Americans a year die from the flu — a number that vastly overstates the normal toll from flu. "Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!" he wrote.

Mr. Trump's claim about flu deaths is false. The CDC estimates that 12,000 to 61,000 Americans have died from influenza each year since 2010. By comparison, COVID-19 has killed more than 210,000 Americans over the last eight months, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Twitter flagged the tweet with a message saying it "violated the Twitter Rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19," and added a link to help users find more reliable information about the pandemic. But the president's tweet was not taken down because Twitter said it "determined that it may be in the public's interest."

Facebook, which has often been more hesitant to act on the president's misinformation, removed the post entirely, citing its policies against COVID-19 misinformation

Mr. Trump has continued to downplay COVID-19 and spread false information about it, even as he is still battling the virus himself. He tweeted Monday, shortly before leaving Walter Reed Medical Center, saying Americans should not be "afraid of Covid" or "let it dominate your lives." 

Mr. Trump returned to the White House Monday evening, but still has an active COVID-19 infection and is receiving treatment for it. A growing number of White House officials and staffers and three Republican senators have also tested positive for the virus in the past week. 

The president has frequently compared COVID-19 to the flu, even though he is on tape acknowledging to reporter Bob Woodward in February that he knew the novel coronavirus is "more deadly" than "even your strenuous flus." He told Woodward he likes to "always play it down" so people won't panic.

Mr. Trump's Tuesday post is similar to a tweet he posted March 9, just days before the virus led to lockdowns and business closures nationwide. In that post, he cited lower — but still inaccurate —numbers for U.S. flu deaths.

"So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year," Mr. Trump wrote then. "Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!"

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