Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter has been surrounded by allegations that his changes to the platform will foster misinformation and misleading narratives across the popular social media site.
Musk, who has already taken actions to reinstate a number of controversial public figures whose accounts were previously suspended, has repeatedly referenced his desire to increase “free speech” on the platform.
Now, it appears that Twitter may have taken this one step further by removing some of its COVID-19 content policies that helped police misleading narratives during the pandemic.
Multiple tweets posted on November 29, 2022, claim that Twitter has removed its COVID-19 misinformation policy, a set of rules for posting Coronavirus-related content on the social media platform.
One tweet said: “Victory!@elonmusk has KILLED the Twitter Covid policy. (Or maybe he wasn’t wearing a mask around it and it died)… yep. Let’s go! Try out YOUR WORST “misinformation” tweet below and see if it holds :)”
Twitter was among a group of social media platforms that enforced bespoke moderation practices for posts relating to COVID-19 content.
Its COVID-19 Misinformation Policy set out the penalties for sharing misinformation and disinformation, which included account suspension for repeat violations.
Twitter said previously it had suspended 11,230 accounts for spreading such misinformation since January 2020, which included Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), writer Alex Berenson and baseball star Aubrey Huff.
It added that it had challenged 11.7 million accounts and removed 97,674 pieces of content, as of September 2022.
Greene and Berenson’s accounts have since been reinstated, Greene following Musk’s takeover and Berenson after he sued the company.
Musk has made no secret of reinstatements, calling in November for a Twitter “amnesty” on suspended accounts.
Now it appears the social media platform is indeed stripping further content regulation policies.
Some Google search results for Twitter’s COVID-Misinformation Policy now redirect users to its general help desk page. However, searching deeper through the site reveals that the policy is no longer being enforced.
On the page “COVID-19 – Twitter Transparency Center”, a message states: “Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy.”
The same message is repeated on other sections of the site that detail its COVID-19 content moderation policies.
While other platforms, such as Meta, have said they are reconsidering their approach to COVID content restrictions, the change from Twitter is among the most striking.
The company appears to have made no public statement or otherwise broadly communicated that these specific sets of rules would be phased out.
Using the internet archive service the Wayback Machine, Newsweek found that the new policy has only been announced within the past week, with archives from November 11, and November 21, 2022, showing no indication of COVID-19 content policy shift.
Around the same time that the changes were introduced, Marjorie Taylor Greene‘s account was also reinstated.
According to its page “How we address misinformation on Twitter,” Twitter still says it maintains restrictions on misleading information “to mitigate detected threats and also empower customers with credible context on important issues.”
“The combination of actions we take are meant to be proportionate to the level of potential harm from that situation,” it states
“People who repeatedly violate our policies may be subject to temporary suspensions.
“Depending on potential for offline harm, we limit amplification of misleading content or remove it from Twitter if offline consequences could be immediate and severe.”
However, using a page comparison website that picks out website changes over time, Newsweek found that references to COVID-19 previously mentioned on this page have since been removed.
This included mention of its work on COVID-19 vaccine “prebunks” and removing the “COVID-19 pandemic” as an important topic warranting the use of “informative messages or updates to counter misleading narratives.”
It still mentions elections as an event or topic that may be prone to misleading narratives.
While it is not clear what triggered the policy change, earlier this month, it was reported in The Hill that “misleading information” had been removed from a list of its new website rules.
Newsweek has contacted Twitter for comment.
While Twitter still lists rules regarding misinformation on its website, its COVID-19 Misinformation Policy, which led to the removal of thousands of misleading and unevidenced tweets and millions of account challenges, is no longer being enforced, the platform’s website states.
Other pages on Twitter that detail its current misinformation guidance have removed references to COVID-19 too.
FACT CHECK BY Newsweek’s Fact Check team
The post Fact Check: Did Twitter Scrap Its Covid-19 Misinformation Restrictions? appeared first on Newsweek.