Since January 2020, Twitter’s internal statistics cite over 11,000 accounts suspensions and nearly 100,000 post removals for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. Examples included erroneously promoting ivermectin as a viable alternative COVID-19 treatment and spreading conspiracy theories such as claims that vaccines contained 5G microchips. Last week, Twitter quietly ended its pandemic misinformation moderation policy.
Although the policy update is dated November 23, Twitter has yet to make an explicit public announcement regarding the reversal. News of the change has trickled down to the public via users, reporters, and media outlets.
“… [A]s the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines expands around the world at varying degrees of pace and scale, people continue to turn to Twitter to discuss what’s happening and find the latest authoritative public health information. As such, we continue to prioritize removing or annotating potentially harmful and misleading information to ensure that users can readily find credible information during this critical phase,” the platform’s COVID-19 policy page still reads. At the top of the page, a statement now says the platform “is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy.”
Twitter’s new CEO Elon Musk has previously expressed strong opposition to pandemic lockdown procedures, vaccine mandates, and masking—procedures which are repeatedly proven to slow the deadly virus that has already claimed an estimated 6.6 million lives, per World Health Organization data.
The company’s swift change comes as Musk continues his campaign of reinventing the social media platform to reflect his interpretation of a totally “free speech” environment. Musk recently reinstated the personal accounts of Ye (formerly Kanye West), Jordan Peterson, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene following past suspensions for antisemitic, transphobic, and misleading pandemic-related statements, respectively.
[Related: Elon Musk Twitter layoffs have begun.]
Upon taking control of the social media company following his $44 billion acquisition, Musk almost immediately conducted massive layoffs. This led to the dissolution of entire teams dedicated to areas such as human rights, accessibility, news curation, and moderation. Earlier today, reports surfaced indicating the downsizing also decimated Twitter’s department focused on child sexual abuse materials, reducing it to a “skeleton crew” of less than 10 people for the entire website. Musk has previously stated eliminating CSAM was his “Priority #1” for the platform.
Both former employees and security experts warn that Twitter’s current team of around 2,000 people (down from 7,500 pre-Musk’s takeover) will not be able to handle engineering and content problems as they arise. Over the weekend, NSFW spam from China inundated the site in what some perceived to be a coordinated attack to obfuscate realtime coverage of the country’s ongoing protests. Around the same time, re-uploaded video clips of the deadly 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque mass shooting proliferated due to a lack of moderation teams.
Yesterday, Musk began tweeting a series of messages alleging that Apple had threatened to remove Twitter from its App Store, “but won’t tell [Musk] why.”