Twitter will no longer enforce its policy on COVID-19 misinformation, prompting public health experts and social media researchers to fear the change could have consequences. serious if it discourages vaccination and other efforts to combat the virus that is still spreading.
Sharp-eyed users spotted the change Monday night, noting that a one-sentence update was made to Twitter’s online rules: “Effective November 23, 2020. 2022, Twitter will no longer enforce its COVID-19 misinformation policy.”
By Tuesday, several Twitter accounts were testing new boundaries and celebrating the platform’s hands-on approach, which follows Twitter was bought by Elon Musk.
Dr Simone Gold, a doctor and leading disinformation about COVID-19, tweeted: “This policy is used to silence people around the world who question the narrative. communication around the virus and treatment options. “A victory for freedom of speech and medical freedom!”
However, Twitter’s decision to no longer remove false claims about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine has disappointed public health officials, who say it could lead to more claims. more untrue about the virus or the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
“Bad news,” epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding tweeted, urging people not to run away from Twitter but to continue the fight against bad news about the virus. “People stay – DO NOT give them the town square!”
Paul Russo, a social media researcher and dean of the Katz School of Health and Science at Yeshiva, said that although Twitter’s efforts to prevent false claims about COVID are far from perfect, , but the company’s decision to reverse course is a waiver of its obligations to its users. University in New York.
Russo added that this is the latest in a number of recent moves by Twitter that could end up scaring some users and even advertisers. Several big names in the business sector have paused their ads on Twitter in the face of questions about its direction under Musk.
“The platform is 100% responsible for protecting its users from harmful content,” Russo said. “This is completely unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread. Nationally, new COVID cases averaged nearly 38,800 a day as of Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University – much lower than last winter but a huge shortage due to reduced testing. and report. About 28,100 people with COVID are hospitalized daily and about 313 die, according to the most recent federal daily averages.
Cases and deaths rose from two weeks earlier. However, one-fifth of the US population is unvaccinated, most Americans have not received the latest vaccinations, and many have stopped wearing masks.
Musk, who has personally spread COVID disinformation on Twitter, has expressed interest in repealing many of the platform’s previous rules aimed at combating misinformation.
Last week, Musk said he would “pardon” account holders kicked from Twitter. He’s also reinstated accounts for several people who spread COVID misinformation, including the account of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose personal account was suspended this year for links continues to violate Twitter’s COVID rules.
Greene’s most recent tweets include lines questioning the effectiveness of masks and making baseless claims about the safety of COVID vaccines.
Since the pandemic started, platforms like Twitter and Facebook have struggled to deal with a flurry of virus misinformationits origin and response to it.
Under a policy enacted in January 2020, Twitter prohibits false claims about COVID-19 that the platform determines could lead to real-world harm. According to Twitter’s latest figures, more than 11,000 accounts have been suspended for violating the rules and nearly 100,000 content has been removed from the platform.
Despite rules banning COVID misinformation, Twitter has struggled with enforcement. Posts making bogus claims about home remedies or vaccines can still be found, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how the platform’s rules changed on Tuesday. .
Messages left with San Francisco-based Twitter seeking more information about its policy on COVID-19 misinformation were not immediately returned Tuesday.
A search for common terms related to COVID-19 misinformation on Tuesday yielded a lot of misleading content, but also automated links to helpful virus resources and information. authoritative sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 coordinator, said on Tuesday that the COVID-19 disinformation problem is much bigger than a platform, and that policies banning misinformation nonetheless about COVID is not the best solution either.
Speaking at a Knight Foundation forum on Tuesday, Jha said misinformation about the virus spreads for a number of reasons, including legitimate uncertainty about a deadly disease. “Just banning certain types of content will not help people find good information or make them feel more confident about what they hear from their healthcare providers,” he said.
“I think we all have a shared responsibility,” Jha said of fighting COVID misinformation. “The consequences of not getting it right – of spreading that misinformation – are literally tens of thousands of people who died needlessly.”