By Donie O’Sullivan, CNN
New York (CNN) — Instagram announced Sunday it had lifted its ban on Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the anti-vaccine activist who has launched a presidential bid, two years after it shut down Kennedy’s account for breaking its rules related to Covid-19.
“As he is now an active candidate for president of the United States, we have restored access to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s, Instagram account,” Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Instagram’s parent company Meta said in a statement.
Kennedy, who has a long history of spreading vaccine misinformation, was banned from Instagram in February 2021.
A company spokesperson at the time said Instagram had removed his account for “repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines.”
While Kennedy’s Instagram account was banned, his Facebook account remained active. Both platforms are owned by Meta.
Kennedy was a leading anti-vaccination voice during the Covid-19 pandemic, using his social media platforms to sow doubt and misinformation about the shots.
He has promoted false claims about vaccine links to autism and in 2022 compared vaccine mandates to Nazi Germany.
His wife, actress Cheryl Hines, publicly condemned Kennedy’s remark as “reprehensible” after he invoked Anne Frank, who was murdered by Nazis as a teenager.
Hines distanced herself from him in January 2022, tweeting: “His opinions are not a reflection of my own.”
Meta in August 2022 permanently removed Facebook and Instagram accounts belonging to Children’s Health Defense, Kennedy’s anti-vaccine group. The accounts repeatedly violated the company’s Covid-19 policies, Meta said at the time.
Kennedy’s return to Instagram, first reported by The Washington Post, will give him access to his more than 769,000 followers.
The decision comes as traditional media and social media companies attempt to navigate a 2024 election campaign fraught with accusations of misinformation and censorship.
On Friday, YouTube announced it would no longer remove content featuring false claims that the 2020 US presidential election was stolen, reversing a policy instituted more than two years ago amid a wave of misinformation about the election.
The decision to reinstate Kennedy comes amid a flurry of activity between the candidate and Silicon Valley.
On Sunday, Twitter (TWTR) founder Jack Dorsey appeared to endorse Kennedy for president, tweeting a YouTube video titled, “Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. argues he can beat Trump and DeSantis in 2024.” Dorsey added in the tweet, “He can and will.”
On Monday, Kennedy is due to take part in a live audio chat on Twitter with the company’s owner Elon Musk.
Meta’s decision to allow Kennedy back on Instagram came a few days after the Democratic presidential candidate publicly complained that the platform was blocking his campaign from creating a new account.
Stone, the Meta spokesperson, told CNN on Sunday that the restriction was a mistake and that the company had resolved the issue.
Meta executives have long maintained they believe political candidates should be able to use its platforms to reach voters, even if those candidates sometimes break rules that would get other users banned from its platforms.
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