Twitter No Longer Enforcing Its Covid Misinformation Policy

Twitter has signalled its new ‘free speech’ direction under Elon Musk, after it confirmed it has retreated on its commitment to tackle harmful misinformation about Covid-19.

In a recent update to its website, Twitter said that effective 23 November, it is no longer enforcing its Covid-19 misleading information policy.

Twitter owner Elon Musk has also this week directly challenged Apple, tweeting that the iPhone had threatened to remove the platform from its app store but did not say why Apple had allegedly made such a threat.

Anti-vax misinformation

Musk at the same time also tweeted that “Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter.”

Now Elon Musk, who has been a vocal critic of the US government’s response to Covid-19, has rolled back a key misinformation policy – Musk it should be remembered previously called Californian officials “fascist” for ordering Tesla’s Fremont factory to close during lockdown.

Twitter (before Musk) however was keen to stop the spread of dangerous and false Covid-19 misinformation, and in December 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic was in full flow, the platform warned it would begin to label and remove misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines.

It took that stance after some accounts made repeated false claims about Coronavirus and the adverse impacts of immunisations.

Prior to that in April 2020 Twitter clamped down on reckless tweets after conspiracy theories alleged that 5G was the cause of Coronavirus.

Then in November 2020 Twitter also permanently suspended the account of the conspiracy theorist David Icke for misleading Coronavirus posts.

Then in March 2021 Twitter said it would make life a bit more difficult for those users spreading Coronavirus falsehoods and other anti-vax material, by expanding its efforts to tackle misinformation.

Covid policy

And now Musk’s company has confirmed it has stopped policing its Covid-19 misinformation policy, which means that Twitter will no longer prioritise removing or tagging misleading health information related to Covid-19.

Musk has committed to free speech on Twitter, which might partially explain why this policy was changed.

But it should be remembered that besides axing half of Twitter’s staff, Musk also gutted Twitter’s external contractor teams, whose role was to ensure the platform was free of misinformation and hate (i.e. content moderation).

Online safety experts have contended that Musk’s approach has led to an increase in hate speech, harassment and misinformation on the platform.

And removing checks and balances has also worried advertisers, who don’t want to risk their brands appearing alongside questionable content.

Elon Musk has previously revealed that Twitter has seen a “massive” drop in revenue, which he blamed on activists putting pressure on advertisers.

Despite axing nearly all the content moderation teams, Musk at the weekend claimed that hate speech impressions and reported impersonations have fallen, but it is not clear how Twitter has been measuring these impressions.

Meanwhile the Platformer has reported that Twitter staff are scrambling to restore more than 62,000 suspended accounts.

That figure could include some of the more than 11,000 accounts that were suspended for violating the company’s Covid-19 misinformation rules.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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