Twitter will no longer enforce its policy againstmisinformation, sparking concern among public health experts that the change could have dire consequences if it discourages vaccination and other efforts to combat the still-spreading virus.
Eagle-eyed users noticed the change Monday night, noting that a one-sentence update to Twitter’s online rules read: “Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 Misleading Information Policy ” that policy, previously implemented May 2020, Considered incomplete, misleading or controversial about the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Tuesday, some Twitter accounts were testing new limits and celebrating the hands-off approach of the platform, which comes after Elon Musk bought Twitter.
“This policy was used to silence people around the world who questioned the media story about the virus and treatment options,” Dr. tweeted Simone Gold, a physician and pioneer purveyor of COVID-19 misinformation. “A victory for free speech and medical freedom!”
However, Twitter’s decision disappointed many public health officials, who said it could lead to more false claims about the virus, or the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
“Bad news,” tweeted epidemiologist Eric Feigel-Ding, who urged people not to flee Twitter, but to stay tuned and stand by accurate information about the virus. “Stay people – don’t hand over the town square to them!”
moderation only partially successful
Twitter was one of many social platforms trying to control online conversation in early 2020, fueling hysteria and speculation after a new and deadly virus emerged, and as scientific understanding of the disease developed.
Twitter hasof , as other platforms have. Even when this was in place, posts making bogus claims about home remedies or vaccines could still be found, while factually accurate posts were suppressed if they were attributed to vaccination or masking. was considered important. It was difficult to identify on Tuesday how the platform’s rules would have changed.
Messages left with San Francisco-based Twitter seeking more information on its policy on COVID-19 misinformation were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The virus continues to spread, although fewer Americans are dying of COVID-19 today than at the start of the pandemic. Nationally, new COVID cases averaged about 38,800 daily as of Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The numbers are much lower than last winter, but also much lower due to less testing and reporting of the virus. According to the most recent federal daily average, about 28,100 people with COVID were hospitalized daily and about 313 died.
Cases and deaths were rising since two weeks ago. A fifth of the US population hasn’t been vaccinated yet, and most Americans haven’t received the latest boosters. Many have even stopped wearing masks, as they are no longer required in most places.
Kasturi, who herself has spread COVID misinformation on Twitter, has shown interest in rolling back several of the platform’s previous rules to combat misinformation.
Last week, Musk saidFor account holders who were removed from Twitter. He has also restored the accounts of several people who spread COVID misinformation, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose personal account was suspended this year for repeatedly violating Twitter’s COVID rules .
Green’s most recent tweets include those questioning the effectiveness of masks and making unsubstantiated claims about the safety of COVID vaccines.
Under a policy implemented in January 2020, Twitter prohibited false claims about COVID-19 that the platform determined could cause real-world harm. According to Twitter’s latest numbers, more than 11,000 accounts were suspended and nearly 100,000 pieces of content were removed from the platform for violating the rules.
A search of common terms associated with COVID misinformation turned up a lot of misleading content, but also automated links to useful resources about the virus, as well as official sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Coping is a “collective responsibility”
White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said Tuesday that the problem of COVID-19 misinformation is much bigger than a platform, and that policies restricting COVID misinformation were not the best solution anyway.
Speaking at the Knight Foundation Forum on Tuesday, Jha said misinformation about the virus spreads for a number of reasons, including legitimate uncertainty about the deadly disease. He said simply restricting certain types of content isn’t going to help people find good information, or feel more confident about what they’re hearing from their medical providers.
“I think we all have a collective responsibility,” Jha said about combating misinformation about COVID. “The consequences of not getting it right – of spreading that misinformation – are literally tens of thousands of people dying unnecessarily.”
CBS News’ Irina Ivanova contributed reporting.