Much to the dismay of health experts and Twitter users, Elon Musk-led Twitter has announced that the platform will no longer be enforcing its Prevention of COVID Misinformation policy. This means that Twitter will no longer be labeling any misinformation on COVID with a particular tag on the platform.
Medical professionals, researchers, and leading health experts have expressed their disappointment about the decision and claim that false and misleading health information about COVID still has the potential to harm individuals and public health and put lives at risk.
“Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy,” the social media platform announced across various places on its website.
Towards the end of 2020, the World Health Organization put out a call to action to address what it called the “infodemic,” which aimed to “mitigate harm from health misinformation” that can cause confusion, mistrust, harmful risk-taking behaviors, and can prolong and intensify disease outbreaks.
WHO also started a myth-busting campaign to fight against misinformation, producing advisories clarifying that medical masks do not cause oxygen deprivation and drinking bleach does not prevent COVID-19 but will certainly harm you. Twitter played a vital role in the campaign.
In a press briefing earlier this year, Katherine O’Brien, WHO’s director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals, noted that false and misleading information on social media is not innocuous. “This is not just a matter of chatter on social media channels; it has an impact on what people do, what they choose to do – for themselves, for their children, for their families. So, it’s something we take seriously.”
Much like the Republican party and its leaders, Musk himself has a murky relationship with COVID-related health misinformation. Musk had also embroiled himself in a bit of a controversy when he forced workers at his Tesla plant to defy lockdown orders and continue working there. In March 2020, he tweeted, “the coronavirus panic is dumb,” as well as the falsehood that children are “essentially immune” to COVID-19.
The good thing in all of this, though, is that Musk did come out in support of vaccines and tweeted extensively supporting the vaccination campaigns across the US.
The devolution of credible content and discourse on Twitter is likely to spur more concern from health officials over misinformation on social media platforms.
As for Twitter, the main reason why they are no longer enforcing the policy is quite simple – they don’t have the people to do so. During his cleanup of Twitter, Musk unceremoniously got rid of several teams of content moderators, including people who were hired on a contractual basis.
Moreover, it seems that Musk isn’t interested in putting a moderation committee in place as he had previously promised advertisers and users when he took over the platform.