Twitter ends enforcement of COVID misinformation policy

Twitter will no longer enforce its policy against misinformation about COVID-19raising concerns among public health experts and social media researchers that the change could have serious consequences if it discourages vaccination and other efforts to combat the still-spreading virus.

Eagle-eyed users noticed the change on Monday night, noting that a one-sentence update had been made to Twitter’s online policies: “Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 Misinformation Policy.”

By Tuesday, some Twitter accounts were testing the new limits and celebrating the platform’s no-nonsense approach that comes after Twitter was purchased by Elon Musk.

“This policy was used to silence people around the world who questioned the media narrative surrounding the virus and treatment options,” tweeted Dr Simon Gold, a physician and leading spreader of disinformation about COVID-19. “Victory for free speech and medical freedom!”

Twitter’s decision to no longer remove false claims about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines has disappointed public health officialswho, however, said it could lead to more false claims about the virus or the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

“Bad news,” tweeted epidemiologist Eric Feigel-Dingwho urged people not to run away from Twitter but to continue the fight against bad information about the virus. “Stay human – DON’T give them the town square!”

While Twitter’s efforts to stop false claims about COVID have not been perfect, the company’s decision to reverse course is an abdication of its duty to its users, said Paul Russo, a social media researcher and dean of Yeshiva University’s Katz School of Science and Health. in New York.

Russo added that this is the latest of several recent moves by Twitter that could end up scaring away some users and even advertisers. Some big names in the business have already stopped advertising on Twitter over questions about his leadership under Musk.

“It is 100% the platform’s responsibility to protect its users from harmful content,” Russo said. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread. Nationally, new cases of COVID averaged nearly 38,800 a day as of Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University — far fewer than last winter, but a significantly lower number due to reduced testing and reporting. About 28,100 people with COVID were hospitalized daily and about 313 died, according to the latest federal daily averages.

Cases and deaths increased compared to two weeks earlier. However, one-fifth of the US population is unvaccinated, most Americans have not received the latest boosters, and many have stopped wearing masks.

Musk spreading misinformation about COVID on Twitter himselfhas signaled interest in repealing many of the platform’s previous rules designed to combat misinformation.

Last week, Musk said he would grant an “amnesty” of account holders who have been kicked out of Twitter. He also reinstated the accounts of several people who were spreading misinformation about COVID, including that of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green, whose personal account was suspended this year for repeatedly violating Twitter’s COVID policy.

Green’s recent tweets have included ones questioning the effectiveness of masks and making baseless claims about the safety of COVID vaccines.

Since the start of the pandemic, platforms like Twitter and Facebook have struggled to respond to a flood of misinformation about the virusits origin and the answer to it.

Under a policy adopted in January 2020, Twitter banned false claims about COVID-19 that the platform determined could lead to actual harm. More than 11,000 accounts have been suspended for policy violations and nearly 100,000 pieces of content have been removed from the platform, according to the latest Twitter figures.

Despite its rules banning misinformation about COVID, Twitter has struggled with enforcement. Posts making false claims about home remedies or vaccines can still be found, and on Tuesday it was difficult to determine exactly how the platform’s rules might have changed.

Messages left with San Francisco-based Twitter seeking more information about its policy on misinformation about COVID-19 were not immediately returned Tuesday.

A search for common terms related to COVID misinformation on Tuesday yielded plenty of misleading content, but also automatic links to helpful resources about the virus, as well as authoritative sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Ashish Jha, White House Coordinator for COVID-19said Tuesday that the problem of misinformation about COVID-19 is much bigger than one platform, and that policies banning misinformation about COVID are not the best solution anyway.

Speaking at a Knight Foundation forum on Tuesday, Jha said misinformation about the virus is spreading for a number of reasons, including legal uncertainty about a deadly disease. Simply banning certain types of content won’t help people find good information or make them feel more confident about what they’re hearing from their healthcare professionals, he said.

“I think we all have a collective responsibility,” Jha said of combating misinformation about COVID. “The consequences of not getting this right — of spreading this misinformation — are literally tens of thousands of people dying needlessly.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *