The platform’s entire operation for combating misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic has been shut down in yet another twist in Elon Musk’s Twitter drama. We have roundly chastised musk for spreading falsehoods about COVID on Twitter (via Forbes), raising concerns about platform bias and Musk’s expectation of Twitter serving as a digital echo chamber for his own political views.
The decision went unnoticed. Users simply noticed a short note added to Twitter’s COVID-19 misinformation page: “Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter will no longer enforce the COVID-19 misleading information policy.”
The decision follows Twitter’s so-called general amnesty, in which up to 62,000 accounts removed from the platform may be restored under new management because of an open poll on the platform. Stay tuned to see if anti-vaxxers, COVID-19 denialists, and I have removed others whose content under the previous rules will be allowed back on the platform.
The problem with that is that popularity does not make a statement true. Popular myths about COVID-19, in particular, spread like wildfire throughout the pandemic, often with tragic consequences (via NPR). To his credit, Musk isn’t advocating for the complete abolition of Twitter moderation standards, reverting the service to “a free-for-all hellscape where anything can be said with no consequences.”
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Musk refers to Twitter’s new strategy as “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach.” His intention is for tweets with hateful content to be deboosted and demonetized, making them visible only to users who actively seek them out. It’s a more laissez-faire approach that aligns with Musk’s free-market politics. It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to deal with the surge in misinformation that always follows politically charged events like elections and natural disasters.