Twitter’s long-running effort to fight COVID-19 misinformation is at an end, at least for now. As Twitter users and CNNnoticed, the social media firm has quietly updated its transparency site to reveal that it stopped enforcing its COVID misinformation policy on November 23rd. It’s not clear if the company will restore any accounts banned for sharing misinformation as part of Elon Musk’s planned amnesty, but this indicates that the company won’t suspend further users or delete content including falsehoods about the coronavirus or vaccines.
Twitter started cracking down on COVID-19 misinformation in January 2020, as the disease began spreading worldwide. The social network has since banned over 11,200 accounts, pulled over 97,600 examples of false content and “challenged” 11.7 million accounts through efforts like warning labels. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy even pointed to the company’s policy as an example of how other technology platforms could fight bogus medical claims.
The company has effectively disbanded its communications team and isn’t available for comment. However, Musk has routinely voiced his opposition to bans and some COVID-19 safety measures. Tesla defied early pandemic lockdowns by keeping factories open despite shelter-in-place orders. Musk also insisted during an April 2020 earnings call that these lockdowns were “forcibly imprisoning people,” and threatened to move Tesla’s headquarters from California to Texas in response. While the entrepreneur supports vaccination, he opposes mandates and voiced support for the anti-mandate occupiers that shut down the Canadian capital city of Ottawa for weeks.
The news comes amid reports Twitter is scaling back other teams dedicated to catching toxic behavior. Bloombergsources claim Musk has gutted the team dedicated to fighting child sexual abuse material (CSAM) as part of his wide-ranging layoffs, cutting it from roughly 20 specialists to less than 10. The contacts say that the unit was already strained before, but is now “overwhelmed” despite Musk’s assertion that fighting child exploitation is “priority #1.” This could put Twitter in legal jeopardy as it’s frequently required by law to remove CSAM — the UK’s Online Safety Bill lets regulators fine companies if they don’t move quickly to pull offending content.
The cutbacks may have also limited Twitter’s ability to fend off bots and other fake accounts. The tech giant struggled to curb spam obscuring news of Chinese protests after Musk laid off Twitter’s anti-propaganda team, for example.