Twitter has stopped enforcing its Covid misinformation policy, designed to prevent the spread of harmful false narratives about the pandemic. This has increased simmering concerns that the platform, already an echo chamber for many users, could become a misinformation super-spreader. Users are already testing the waters to see what kind of false statements they can knowingly publish. “COVID was created in a lab by the Chinese with the assistance of Dr. Fauci,” one user tweeted Tuesday, quickly garnering 5,000 likes. “Ivermectin works!!! Go figure,” posted another user, who got 11.9 thousand likes.
The update happened the day before Thanksgiving, when a Twitter report about the importance of highlighting authoritative and accurate information about the pandemic got an addendum: “Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy,” the new note read.
The platform’s misleading information policy page has been removed from its website, where it once outlined the kinds of tweets that would violate the terms of service. According to the policy, tweets could be removed for claiming “the pandemic is a hoax, or part of a deliberate attempt at population control, or that 5G wireless technology is causing COVID-19.” Users were also not allowed to tweet that vaccines were part of a surveillance or population control effort, that people were being experimented on, or that people should try “potentially harmful and unapproved treatments.” The end of the policy comes amid weeks of upheaval following Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, including growing concerns about the platform’s ability to fight misinformation after Musk fired about half the staff, including those responsible for content moderation. The company also got rid of its communications team, so Rolling Stone was unable to reach out for comment.
Some users are lauding the rollback of the rules. Among those celebrating is Donald Trump’s former assistant secretary of the Treasury, conservative commentator Monica Crowley. “Twitter has stopped enforcing its Orwellian COVID misinformation policy,” Crowley tweeted Tuesday. “FREE THE TRUTH!” During Barack Obama’s presidency, Crowley repeated false claims that Obama was secretly a Muslim and praised Trump for questioning his citizenship.
Former Fox Sports personality Clay Travis, who founded the right-wing sports site Outkick and who repeatedly downplayed the severity of Covid during the early days of the pandemic, also tweeted, jubilantly, about the end of the policy. “Finally. The truth is that almost everything @twitter labeled as covid misinformation ended up being true,” he said in a tweet liked more than 3,100 times.
Some tweets, including those about Dr. Fauci and Ivermectin, have a distinctly 2020 feel to them. Georgia Congresswoman and QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene brought up mask use, as though it were a novel observation as we near the end of the third year of the pandemic. “So many people still wearing masks,” she tweeted on Monday. “If a pair of underwear, really thick ones, high quality cotton, can’t protect you from a fart, then how will a mask protect you from covid??” Supposed statistics regarding the “truth” about vaccines — i.e., the false suggestion that they kill you — are also getting plenty of engagement, although it’s hard to tell how much of that is really because of the rules change, and not just more of the usual nonsense. Despite Twitter’s policy against it, plenty of users have called Covid a hoax and spread other false narratives throughout the pandemic without recourse. Further, as the Washington Post reported in August, sometimes Twitter flagged authoritative information as misinformation, resulting in the suspension of doctors and scientists from the platform. It was never a perfect system, but Musk continues to do everything he can to burn it to the ground.