Twitter Quietly Stops COVID-19 Misinformation Policy

In yet another twist in the Elon Musk Twitter drama, the platform's entire operation for fighting misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic is being shut down. Musk himself has been roundly criticized for spreading falsehoods about COVID on Twitter (via Forbes), raising questions about platform bias and the degree to which Musk expects Twitter to function as a digital echo chamber for his own political views.

The decision was not widely publicized. Users simply noticed a short note added to Twitter's page on COVID-19 misinformation: "Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy."

The decision comes in the wake of Twitter's so-called general amnesty, where, in response to an open poll on the platform, up to 62,000 accounts removed from Twitter may be restored under new management. As for whether anti-vaxxers, COVID-19 deniers, and other people whose content would have been removed under the old rules will be allowed back to the platform, stay tuned.

Vox populi, vox Musk?

Musk has embraced the philosophy of "vox populi, vox dei" in recent days, which translates to "the voice of the people is the voice of God." In short, he believes he's moderating by popular democracy to the point of determining contentious issues like the aforementioned amnesty and the restoration of former President Donald Trump's Twitter privileges via open poll.

The issue with that of course, is that popularity doesn't make a statement true. Popular falsehoods about COVID-19 in particular ran rampant throughout the pandemic, often with tragic results (via NPR). To his credit, Musk isn't advocating a complete elimination of Twitter moderation standards, returning the service to, in his own words, "a free-for-all hellscape where anything can be said with no consequences."

Rather, Musk describes Twitter's new strategy as "freedom of speech, not freedom of reach." His intent is that tweets with hateful content will be deboosted and demonetized, visible only to users who deliberately seek them out. It's a more laissez-faire approach, consistent with Musk's own free-market politics. Whether that will prove sufficient to handle the spike in misinformation that invariably follows politically fraught situations like elections and natural disasters simply remains to be seen.