When Times of Malta cartoonist Professor Ġorġ Mallia sat down to compose his latest in a series of cartoons about COVID-19, he decided to take aim at the spread of false news online.

His tongue-in-cheek offering depicted an agitated man musing on whether COVID-19 was a scam and questioning his own reality as a comic strip character. 

But when he posted it on Facebook on Wednesday, the journalism lecturer was surprised that the cartoon was removed from his page for spreading "false information about COVID-19 that could contribute to physical harm".

Facebook said the cartoon could cause physical harm.Facebook said the cartoon could cause physical harm.

Mallia, whose Żepp cartoons are published twice-weekly on Times of Malta, has been focusing on the pandemic in his 'new normal' series. 

He said it was the first time that he had ever had a post banned by Facebook.

“My Żepp strip from today satirises fake news about COVID-19... as it has done in all its 119 strips, but according to Facebook I am the one spreading fake news about COVID-19," he said. “If you want to see today's strip you'll need to go to the Times' website to do so."

He said Facebook's fake news algorithm was "ridiculously hopeless" to claim it safeguards the well being of its users, "and yet all the actual fake news gets through!"

After saying he might no longer post his cartoon strip on Facebook, one commenter suggested he post on Twitter instead. 

Other satirists have previously fallen foul of the social media giant's community standards, which are supposed to clamp down on misinformation.

The company's artificial intelligence systems and its human moderators have difficulty separating false news from satire and irony. 

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