Twitter Ends Enforcement of COVID Misinformation Policy
Published 6:23 p.m. Tuesday 29 November 2022
Twitter will no longer enforce its policy against COVID-19 misinformation, raising concerns among public health experts and social media researchers that the change could have serious repercussions if it depends on vaccination and other efforts to combat the spread of the virus keeps the virus from spreading.
Sharp-eyed users took notice of the change Monday night, noting that Twitter’s online rules were updated in one sentence: “Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 Misleading Information Policy.”
On Tuesday, some Twitter accounts tested the new boundaries, celebrating the platform’s hands-off approach, which comes after Elon Musk bought Twitter.
“This policy was used to silence people around the world who were questioning the media narrative surrounding the virus and treatment options,” tweeted Dr. Simone Gold, a medical doctor and leading purveyor of COVID-19 misinformation. “A gain for freedom of expression and medical freedom!”
However, Twitter’s decision to stop removing false claims about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines disappointed public health officials, who said it could lead to more false claims about the virus or vaccine safety and effectiveness.
“Bad news,” tweeted epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding, urging people not to leave Twitter but to continue fighting bad information about the virus. “Stay folks – DO NOT 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 a waiver of its duty to its users, said Paul Russo, a social media researcher and Dean of Katz School of Science and Health at Yeshiva University in New York.
Russo added that this is the latest of several recent moves by Twitter that may ultimately scare off some users and even advertisers. Some big names in business have already paused their ads on Twitter over questions about targeting under Musk.
“It’s 100% the platform’s responsibility to protect its users from malicious content,” Russo said. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread. There were nearly 38,800 new COVID cases a day on average as of Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University — far fewer than last winter but a huge undercount due to reduced testing and reporting. According to the latest federal averages, about 28,100 people with COVID were hospitalized every day and about 313 died.
Cases and deaths had risen two weeks earlier. Still, a fifth of the US population has not been vaccinated, most Americans have not received the latest booster shots and many have stopped wearing masks.
Musk, who has himself circulated COVID misinformation on Twitter, has signaled his interest in reversing many of the platform’s previous anti-misinformation rules.
Last week, Musk said he would grant “amnesty” to account holders who were thrown from Twitter. He has also restored the accounts of several people spreading COVID misinformation, including that of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose personal account was suspended from Twitter this year for repeated breaches of COVID rules.
Greene’s recent tweets include those questioning the effectiveness of masks and making unsubstantiated claims about the safety of COVID vaccines.
Since the pandemic began, platforms like Twitter and Facebook have struggled to respond to a deluge of misinformation about the virus, its origins and the response to it.
Under the policy issued in January 2020, Twitter banned false claims about COVID-19 that the danger identified by the platform could cause harm in the real world. According to the latest figures from Twitter, more than 11,000 accounts have been banned for violating the rules and nearly 100,000 pieces of content have been removed from the platform.
Despite its rules banning COVID misinformation, Twitter has struggled with enforcement. Posts could still be found making false claims about home remedies or vaccines, and it was difficult on Tuesday to pinpoint exactly how the platform’s rules may have changed.
Messages left at San Francisco-based Twitter for more information about its policies on COVID-19 misinformation were not immediately returned on Tuesday.
A search Tuesday for common terms related to COVID misinformation found much misleading content, but also automatic links to helpful resources about the virus, as well as authoritative sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
dr Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 coordinator, said Tuesday that the problem of COVID-19 misinformation is far bigger than a platform and that policies banning COVID misinformation aren’t the best solution anyway.
Speaking at a Knight Foundation forum on Tuesday, Jha said there was misinformation about the spread of the virus for a number of reasons, including legitimate uncertainty about a deadly disease. Simply banning certain types of content will not help people find good information or give them more confidence in what they hear from their medical providers, he said.
“I think we all have a collective responsibility,” Jha said of countering misinformation about COVID. “The consequences of not getting this right – spreading this misinformation – is literally tens of thousands of people dying needlessly.”