Twitter will no longer enforce its policy against misinformation about COVID-19, raising concerns among public health experts and social media researchers that the change could have major implications if it hinders vaccinations and other efforts to combat the still-spreading virus.
Attentive netizens noticed the change on Monday evening, noting that one sentence was made to Twitter’s online policies: “As of November 23, 2022, Twitter no longer enforces a misleading policy about COVID-19.”
By Tuesday, some Twitter accounts were testing new frontiers and celebrating the platform’s laissez-faire that came after Twitter was bought by Elon Musk.
“This policy has been used to silence people around the world who have been questioning media reports about the virus and treatment options,” Dr. Simone Gold, a physician and leading spreader of misinformation about COVID-19, tweeted. “Victory for freedom of speech and freedom of medicine!”
However, Twitter’s decision to no longer remove false claims about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines disappointed health officials, who said it could lead to new false claims about the virus or the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
“Bad news,” tweeted epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding, who urged people not to flee Twitter, but to continue fighting false information about the virus. “Stop, people, don’t give them the city square!”
While Twitter’s efforts to stop false claims about COVID have not been perfect, the company’s decision to change course is a reversal of its responsibilities to users, said Paul Russo, a social media researcher and dean of the School of Science and Health. Katz in the yeshiva. University in New York.
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Russo added that this is the latest of several recent moves by Twitter that could end up deterring some users and even advertisers. Some prominent businessmen have already paused their Twitter ads due to questions about their direction under Musk.
“The platform is 100% responsible for protecting its users from harmful content,” Russo said. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread. The national average of new COVID cases was about 38,800 per day as of Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, much lower than last winter but vastly underestimated 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.
Morbidity and mortality rose compared to two weeks earlier. Yet a fifth of the US population has not been vaccinated, most Americans have not received the latest boosters, and many have stopped wearing masks.
Musk, who has himself spread misinformation about COVID on Twitter, has expressed interest in repealing many of the platform’s previous rules designed to combat disinformation.
Musk said last week that he would grant an “amnesty” to account owners who had been removed from Twitter. He also restored the accounts of several people who spread misinformation about COVID, including that of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, whose personal account was suspended this year for repeatedly violating Twitter’s COVID rules.
Among Green’s latest tweets are those that question the effectiveness of masks and make unsubstantiated claims about the safety of COVID vaccines.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have struggled to respond to the deluge of misinformation about the virus.its origin and reaction to it.
In accordance with a policy adopted in January 2020, Twitter prohibits false claims about COVID-19 that the platform believes could cause real harm. According to the latest figures from Twitter, more than 11,000 accounts have been suspended for violating the rules, and nearly 100,000 pieces of content have been removed from the platform.
Despite its rules against disinformation about COVID, Twitter has struggled with enforcement. Posts making false claims about home remedies or vaccines could still be found, and on Tuesday it was difficult to pinpoint exactly how the platform’s rules might have changed.
Messages left on San Francisco’s Twitter asking for more information about its COVID-19 disinformation policy were not immediately returned on Tuesday.
A search for common terms related to COVID misinformation on Tuesday returned a lot of misleading content, as well as automatic links to helpful resources about the virus, as well as authoritative sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House coordinator for COVID-19, said on Tuesday that the problem of misinformation about COVID-19 is much broader than one platform, and that a policy banning misinformation about COVID was not the best solution anyway.
Speaking at the Knight Foundation forum on Tuesday, Jha said misinformation about the spread of the virus stems from a number of reasons, including legitimate uncertainty about the deadly disease. Merely banning certain types of content won’t help people find useful information or make them feel more confident about what they hear from their healthcare professionals, he says.
“I think we all have a collective responsibility,” Jah said of combating misinformation about COVID. “The consequences of misunderstanding – the spread of this misinformation – literally means that tens of thousands of people are dying unnecessarily.”
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