Twitter to cease monitoring Covid misinformation underneath CEO Elon Musk

In this photo illustration Elon Musk’s Twitter account viewed on a mobile phone with Elon Musk in the background. In Brussels – Belgium on November 19, 2022.

Jonathan Raa | Nurphoto | Getty Images

In a recent update to its website, Twitter said it was no longer enforcing its misleading information policy on Covid-19, effective November 23.

This means the company will no longer prioritize removing or flagging misleading health information related to Covid-19.

Twitter said in December 2020 it would begin flagging and removing misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines as thousands of accounts made false claims about the coronavirus and the adverse effects of vaccination.

Twitter CEO Elon Musk has been vocal in his criticism of how public health officials have been responding to the coronavirus pandemic. He said during the company’s first-quarter 2020 earnings call that the stay-at-home orders “violently detain people in their homes against all their constitutional rights.” He also said on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast in 2020 that the death rate from Covid-19 was much lower than health officials estimated.

Musk has pledged to free speech on Twitter, which could partially explain why the change went into effect. However, online safety experts have claimed his approach has led to an increase in hate speech, harassment and misinformation on the platform.

Several civil rights groups earlier this month urged advertisers to stop advertising on Twitter after the company laid off thousands of employees, a move the groups feared would affect the company’s ability to moderate hateful and other problematic content.

Musk has claimed that impressions of hate speech have declined since October, although it’s not entirely clear how Twitter measured those impressions.

The change comes as technology newsletter Platformer says employees are scrambling to recover more than 62,000 suspended accounts. That number could include some of the more than 11,000 accounts suspended for violating the company’s Covid-19 misinformation rules.

On Nov. 23, Musk shared a poll asking whether Twitter should give “general amnesty” to suspended accounts so long as they weren’t involved in “egregious spam” or violated any law. “Yes” received 72.4% of the votes and “No” received 27.6%.

“People have spoken,” Musk said in a tweet the next day. “Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei.”‘

The poll was neither scientific nor immune to bot participation.

Musk used the same Latin phrase, meaning “the voice of the people, the voice of God,” on November 19 to announce that former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account would be restored. Under previous ownership, Twitter suspended Trump’s account for life following his promotion of the Jan. 6 uprising.

The billionaire who is also the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, was forced to halt the initial launch of its $8-per-month Twitter Blue service after users abused the system by purchasing blue ticks to impersonate brands and celebrities. He banned some impersonators before closing the service, but again raised questions about his definition of free speech.

Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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