Twitter Stops Enforcing COVID-19 ‘Misleading Information’ Policy

Twitter Stops Enforcing COVID-19 ‘Misleading Information’ Policy
The Twitter logo at its corporate headquarters in San Francisco, Calif., on Nov. 18, 2022. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Tom Ozimek

Twitter has stopped enforcing its COVID-19 “misleading information” policy that had resulted in nearly 100,000 pieces of content being cut from the platform and led to more than 11,000 account suspensions.

The social media giant, which was taken over by industrialist Elon Musk at the end of October, said in a report that, effective Nov. 23, Twitter is “no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy.”

The report included information about Twitter’s enforcement actions related to its COVID-19 content policies. Between January 2020 and September 2022, there were 11.72 million accounts challenged, 11,230 accounts were suspended, and 97,674 pieces of content removed.

The policy, which was introduced to curb the spread of “harmful misinformation” related to COVID-19, was praised by some, including U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who in an advisory (pdf) on “building a healthy information environment” cited Twitter’s rules as a model for companies to fight misinformation.
But heavy-handed enforcement of the policy garnered criticism, such as when earlier this year Twitter flagged numerous tweets with factual information about COVID-19 as misinformation and suspended accounts of scientists and doctors.

The Crackdown

In one case, Twitter blocked a post from Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo that promoted an analysis that asserts there were a high number of cardiac-related deaths among men who took an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
The post, which was unblocked hours later, reads: “Today, we released an analysis on COVID-19 mRNA vaccines the public needs to be aware of. This analysis showed an increased risk of cardiac-related death among men 18–39. FL will not be silent on the truth.” It also linked to guidance and a news release regarding the analysis.

Several members of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration criticized Twitter for blocking Ladapo’s post.

“Twitter has not explained WHY the study findings constitute ’misinformation' nor proven them wrong,” wrote DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw on Twitter.

“This is an unacceptable and Orwellian move for narrative over fact,” Bryan Griffin, the governor’s press secretary, wrote on Twitter.

Ladapo commented on the incident after his post was restored: “I love the discussion that we’ve stimulated. Isn’t it great when we discuss science transparently instead of trying to cancel one another?” he wrote.
In another case, Dr. Peter McCullough, a renowned Texas-based internist and cardiologist who has raised questions about the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines, was suspended from Twitter and his account remains blocked.
McCullough is one of several individuals who have sued Twitter for suspending their accounts over COVID-19 related information.

‘Mistakes Made’

In August, after Twitter received a number of complaints and queries over its heavy-handed enforcement of the COVID-19 content policy, the company removed a number of warning labels from tweets and restored accounts.
Twitter also acknowledged the problem in an interview with The Washington Post.

“We’re always working to improve the safety of our service and ensuring we provide avenues of recourse when we get it wrong through our appeals processes,” then Twitter spokesperson Celeste Carswell told the outlet. “We acknowledge the mistakes made in these cases, and we are reviewing our team’s protocol to safeguard against such mistakes in the future.”

Carswell is no longer employed at Twitter, according to her profile bio, presumably as part of the large-scale layoffs at the company since Musk took over. Twitter’s official communications account has been dormant since Oct. 30.

Musk to Reveal Details of Twitter’s ‘Free Speech Suppression’

Musk has vowed to dial back Twitter’s censorship policies that many conservatives have alleged are discriminatory and amount to suppression of free speech.

At the same time, he pledged in an open letter that he would not to allow the platform to become a “free-for-all hellscape” where anything could be said “with no consequences.”

“In addition to adhering to the laws of the land, our platform must be warm and welcoming to all,” Musk wrote.

He also announced earlier in November that Twitter’s new policy is “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach,” adding that Twitter would demonetize and not promote “hate/negative tweets.”

“You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from rest of Internet,” Musk said.

Musk said on Nov. 29 that Twitter’s internal files on the company’s “free speech suppression” will be revealed “soon,” raising expectations that light will be shed on the firm’s opaque actions in blocking content and banning accounts.

“The Twitter Files on free speech suppression soon to be published on Twitter itself. The public deserves to know what really happened,” Musk said in a post late Monday.

Critics have long held that Twitter has used vague standards to censor or suspend accounts and that the ones targeted are predominantly those expressing conservative views.

Twitter has denied any bias in its actions, repeatedly insisting it is simply following its content moderation policies.

Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.
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